Classical Theory in Criminology

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Classical School
Classical theory in criminology has its roots in the theories of the 18th century Italian nobleman and economist, Cesare Beccaria and the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (Hollin, 2004, 2). It was based on principles of utilitarian philosophy. Cesare Beccaria, author of On Crimes and Punishments (1763–64), Jeremy Bentham, inventor of the panopticon, and other classical school philosophers based their arguments as follows, (1) People have free will to choose how to act

(2) Deterrence is based upon the notion of the human being as a 'hedonist' who seeks pleasure and avoids pain, and a 'rational calculator' weighing up the costs and benefit consequences of each action. (3) Punishment (of sufficient severity) can deter people from crime, as the costs (penalties) outweigh benefits, and that severity of punishment should be proportionate to the crime. (4) The more swift and certain the punishment, the more effective it is in deterring criminal behavior.

Pre 18th century was a time in history when punishment for crime was severe in the extreme, and both men proffered the theory of utility. It should be remembered that the Classical school of thought came about at a time when major reform in penology occurred, with prisons developed as a more civilized form of punishment. Also, this time period saw many legal reforms, like the French Revolution, and the development of the legal system in the United States. New theorists like Beccaria and Bentham looked at the causes of criminal and delinquent behavior, and began to scientifically explain such deviance (Juvenile, 2005, 71). They rejected theories of naturalism and demonology which characterized the European Enlightenment as explanations for these types of behavior. The new theories reflected the rationalism and humanitarianism of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment. These theories have paved the way for more humane form of new world order on criminology. According to some Beccaria did not develop a completely new theory of criminology, but rather sought a way to make the punishment for committing a crime more rational. He believed that there should be a hierarchy of punishments for more and more serious crimes and the number of times a criminal had been charged previously, the circumstances under which the death penalty was imposed would depend entirely on the severity of the crime but not on the actual act committed or the degree of involvement in the act. He was against judges having virtually unlimited discretion they possessed and favored definite punishments fitting each crime. He published an historic piece, An Essay on Crimes and Punishment, in 1764, discussing why crime occurs. It may be important to discuss the state of criminal justice in Europe to which the classical school was responding. Europe was leaving behind its long history of feudalism and absolute monarchy and turning toward the development of modern nation states that ruled based on rational decision making powers. In light of this criminal justice was one of the areas that needed to be updated. Throughout Europe, except in England, the use of torture to secure confessions and force self-incriminating testimony had been widespread. In England, the standard penalty for conviction of a felony was death. capital punishment often had been combined with estate forfeiture, leaving the felon's widow and children penniless. Many accused allowed themselves to be crushed to death (piene forte et dure) rather than risk a trial and leave their families destitute. It was with such a knowledge of history that Beccaria developed his ideas concerning criminal behavior and how best to control it. However, Beccaria and other utilitarians did not develop their ideas in a vacuum. There were other Enlightenment thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau who helped to create the intellectual climate in which Beccaria worked. There were a number of beliefs about human behavior that most...
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