The classical school of criminology was a response to the harsh times of the Holy Inquisition. It was a product of the Enlightenment, seeking to replace the notions of the divine rights of royalty and clergy with rationalism, intellectualism, and humanitarianism. The two chief ambassadors of the classical school of criminology are Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). Beccaria is widely recognized as the father of the classical school of criminology. In his essay Dei deliti e delle pene (On Crimes and Punishment), Beccaria asserted that humans are rational, have free will, and are hedonistic. He also claimed that crime can be prevented by convincing warnings of punishments. To succeed in preventing crime, certainty, severity, and celerity of punishment must be present. Jeremy Bentham embraced the utilitarian philosophy of replacing harsh and capricious punishments with humane punishments and protection against bogus allegations.
The classical school of criminology was the foundation of the modern criminal justice system in the Western world. Criminal law and criminal procedure now assume that people are rational actors, thanks to the classical school of criminology. In addition, penalties for crime became more humane and policing turned to a deterrence base. Sir Robert Peel was responsible for the passage of the London Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 which organized the first modern police department based on the principles of deterrence.
Whether one believes in the deterrence theory depends on their ideology. Up to the 1970's, the theory was rejected by the criminological community while being accepted by criminal justice practitioners. Both points of view are concurrently right and wrong. The tiger prevention fallacy is a humorous analogy drawn to illustrate the widespread fallacy that absence of crime demonstrates the effectiveness of deterrence efforts. The story identifies a man snapping his fingers in the middle of New York City and claiming that his efforts have deterred tigers from congregating. The warden's survey is a humorous analogy drawn to illustrate the widespread fallacy that the presence of crime demonstrates that deterrence does not work. The story identifies a prison warden pointing to his inmates as proof of the absence of deterrence. Now there is care taken to distinguish between general deterrence, which is directed at the community in general, and specific deterrence, which is geared toward preventing a particular offender from committing an offense.
Tipping levels is the idea that punishment certainty, severity, and celerity must reach a minimum level before a deterrent effect can be reached. The total prevention of crime through threats of punishment is absolute deterrence, this is not possible. Marginal deterrence is possible. Marginal deterrence is the prevention of some, but not all, crime through threats of sanctions....