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Describe the Classical and Positive Schools of Criminology

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The Classical School of Criminology and the Positive School of Criminology are two of the main theories that try and explain the behavior of delinquents

The Classical School of Criminology was developed in the late 1700s by Cesare Beccaria. Classical theorists were trying to decrease punishment and obtain equal justice for all. "According to Beccaria and Jeremy Bantham, and English philospther, human nature is characterized by three central features: 1) People are not bound by original sin but have freedom of choice; 2) people are rational and are capable of using reason to govern their lives; and 3) people are motivated to pursue their own self-interests at the expense of others."

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The classical school of criminology was developed in the eighteenth century, where classical thinking emerged in response to the cruel forms of punishment that dominated at the time. It is considered that writers such as Montesquieu and Voltaire encouraged perhaps the emergence of this new ‘classical’ thinking, by becoming involved in campaigns for more enlightened approaches to be taken towards crime and the punishment given by the justice systems at the time. Also the development of society craved new forms of legal regulation due to the fact that there needed to be predictability in the system, as technology and properties in particular needed legal protection and workers needed to be disciplined in a consistent way. There were two main contributors to this theory of criminology and they were Jeremy Bentham and Cesare de Beccaria. They are seen as the most important enlightenment thinkers in the area of ‘classical’ thinking and are considered the founding fathers of the classical school of criminology

They both sought to reduce the harshness of eighteenth century judicial systems, even though coming from different philosophical stances. Bentham’s contribution to ‘classical’ theory is based on the fact that he was a utilitarian, interested in the happiness and well being of the population and therefore believing that punishment, in the form of the infliction of pain, should always be justified in terms of a greater good. At the heart of Bentham’s writing was the idea that human behaviour is directed at maximising pleasure and minimising pain, (the pleasure-pain principle).

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In the 18th century, Beccaria founded the classical school of criminology. Becarria proposed the punishment should fit the crime. (Bruni & Porta, 2014) To be effective at crime deterrents, the punishment should be as lenient as possible

For example, if a suspect has alleged to commit murder then the murderer’s punishment should be capital punishment e.g. the death penalty. (Hostettler, 2010) If an alleged thief stole an expensive painting without hurting any guards then the punishment should be enough to deter future thefts. One of the novel ideas, Beccaria insisted upon was punishing nobels as no different than the lowest member of society. (Hostettler, 2010) Beccaria’s classical theory of criminology was praised for its practical justice. The classical theory of criminology focuses on an eye for an eye. In the 21st century, there are several examples where the classical criminology theory is still practiced. Gangs tend to punish members and rival gangs based on Becarria’s classical theory. For example, if a rival motor club shoots a competitive gang member then vengeance will almost always be returned in a similar way. Italian mafias also practice vengeance style crime control. The classical theory of criminology is alive and well in transnational organized criminal organizations because the classical theory is most applicable to criminal enterprises and crime control.

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In the final analysis, it is hard for anyone to grasp the concept or be able to understand why people commit heinous crimes or engage in criminal activities

We as human beings are all capable of committing or engaging in delinquent behavior. What stands in the way of a person that makes them decided to engage in deviant behavior or to choose not to commit crimes at all? We may never truly know or understand the real reasons behind why certain people make decisions like these every day. Early philosophers and scientists looked carefully and dug deep into the criminal justice system and the behavior of criminals using theories to explain criminal behavior. With these views they were able to come up with multiple distinctive theories that explained different views on why people decided to commit crimes.

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Bailey, F. (2005). Born to crime: Cesare Lombroso and the origins of biological criminology. Journal of History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vo. 41 Issue

Bruni, L., & Porta, P. L. (2014). Cesare Beccaria’s on crimes and punishments. History of Economics Review, (60), 64–74.

Hostettler, J. (2010). Cesare Beccaria: The Genius of ‘On Crimes and Punishments.’ Waterside Press, Retrieved 29 January 2019 from

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