Classical Theory and Its Effects on Criminal Justice Policy

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Classical Theory

Classical Theory and its Effects on Criminal Justice Policy

With the exception of probation, imprisonment has been the main form of punishment for serious offenders in the United States for over 200 years. Americans can be said to have invented modern incarceration as a means of criminal punishment. Although Europe provided precedents, theoretical justifications, and even architectural plans for imprisoning offenders, Americans developed the blueprints for the typical prisons of today and devised the disciplinary routines, types of sentences, and programs that prison systems of other countries subsequently adopted or modified (Rafter & Stanley 1999).

Many Americans tend to disagree about the purposes of prison. Some argue that is should be a form of punishment for those that have broken the law, while others believe that the primary goal is to keep criminals off the streets and to discourage future crimes through rehabilitation. Although these are all valid reasons, I tend to believe that a combination of these issues plays a vital role in establishing goals in the prison system.

To maintain a better understanding of these underlying issues we must first examine the background of the prison system and the theories in which it was built upon. Incarceration of offenders hasn’t always been the penalty imposed on serious offenders. During the colonial period it was not uncommon for felons to be subject to flogging, branding, mutilation, hangings, public humiliation, and banishments to wilderness areas, but they seldom involved confinement in penal institutions. In short, the colonial period punishments emphasized the infliction of pain, not the deprivation of liberty (Rafter & Stanley 1999).

Shortly after the Revolutionary War, many began to rethink the issues of crime and punishment. The deprivation of liberty became a better alternative to the tradition of physical beatings. The introduction of the book, On Crimes and...
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