INTRODUCTION century, where classical thinking emerged in

There are many definitions of a theory. A theory is a set of interconnected statements or propositions that explains how two or more events or factors are related to one another (Curran and Renzetti, 2001)

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 was considered that writers such as Montesquieu and Voltaire encouraged perhaps the emergence of classical thinking, by becoming involved in campaigns for enlightened approaches to be taken towards crime and punishment given by justice system at that time.

The origins of classical theory can be found in the works Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham in the eighteenth century. Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham, were two of the most important Enlightment thinkers, although coming from very different philosophical position, both sought to limit barbarity to the eighteen century system of justice. (Newburn, 2018)
Classical criminology emerged at the time when naturalistic approach of social contract above challenging the previously dominated a spiritual approach to explaining crime and criminal behaviour. (Hopkins Burke, 2013).
Bentham was an influential scholar reformer of the classical school. He described human decision making a hedonistic calcus. In the words, people will act in ways that maximize negative ones and naturally, a person commits a crime because of the perception that the benefits of the greater than the cost of punishment. (Vito, Maahs and Holmes, 2006)
Beccaria deserves much credit for pulling together many of the most powerful 18th century ideas of democratic liberalism and connecting them to issues of criminal justice. He also believed that humans were rational; they consider the consequences of the behavior before acting. Beccaria, argued that punishment should deter come and denounced the use of death penalty. (Vito, Maahs and Holmes, 2006)
‘Classical’ thinking emerged largely on response to arbitrary and cruel forms of punishment that continued to dominate. The rise of classical conception of law and criminal justice can been seen as a product of the general shift from feudal to industrial society. (Newburn, 2018).
However, one of the strengths of classical thinking had a significant impact on criminological theory, and arguably, an even greater impact of the criminal justice system for example Jurisprudence the theory of law across Europe and America. Because such ideas as punishment being appropriate to the nature of crime became a foundation for modern criminal justice system. Classical approaches to the explanation of crime assumed that individuals were rational beings who made decisions how to behave and should be held to account for those decisions. (Newburn, 2017).

Theorist in criminology has tried several theories from Demonology to biological theories of crime etc. For example demonology to the criminal theory, several other theories have been used to explain criminal behaviour.

Rational choice theory was one of the theories that emerged out classical school. Rational choice theory is a perspective criminologist adapted from economist who used it to explain a variety individual decision regarding different behaviours. (Schram and Tibbetts, 2017) What this means to state that classical thinking says criminals make rational choice, and choose to do criminal acts due to maximum pleasure and minimum pain. The classical school says criminals are rational, they weigh up the costs and therefore we should create deterrents which slightly outweigh what would be gained from the crime. This is the reason behind the death penalty being viewed by classical thinkers such as Beccaria and Bentham as pointless, because there would be no deterrent. However when considering manslaughter, as Bentham also believes, if the severity of the punishment should slightly outweigh the crime then surely capital punishment should be used, there doesn’t seem to be any stronger a deterrent to other criminals thinking of undertaking the same criminal behaviour, than seeing another eradicated due to their actions.

The strength of this theory it emphasized on uniform punishment for all for all people committing the same crimes. Children and insane people were exempted from punishment because they were unable to commit crimes and calculate pleasures of pain intelligently.(Sutherland ,Lukenbill and Cressey,1992)

The weakness of this theory they simply ignore matters of maturity, implying children should be treated in the same way as adults. (Newburn, 2017).

Rational choice perspective on criminal behaviour was intended to locate criminal’s findings suitable for thinking about policy-relevant research. (Hopkins Burke, 2014)

It has been said that offenders seek to benefit themselves by their own criminal behavior; that involves the making of decisions and choices. Although the conception of crime is recognized it seems to fit some forms offering better than others. (Cornish and Clarke, 2017)

White and Haines (2004) came under three set of challenges Firstly; when put into practice how to make such ideas serve the interest of justice and equality faced with a particular defendant in court; Secondly the challenge that is posed by the growth of criminal justice bureaucracies professional police and others, growing efficiency may not always
be compatible with an emphasis on equal justice. Thirdly; a powerful challenge for when rationalism of legal system potentially meant some reduction.(Newburn,2017)

The British system prisons that are used to reduce crime rates. Deterrence is said to operate in one of the two ways. First, in the case of ‘general deterrence ‘The punishment of offenders by the state is seen to serve as an example to the general population who will be afraid of non-participation in criminal behavior. (Zimring and Hawkins, 1973). (Hopkins Burke, 2014)

Second in the case of ‘specific deterrence’ it is proposed that the apprehended and punished will refrain from repeating crime and being punished when caught. (Hopkins Burke, 2014)

In the 19th century classicism came under attack as a particular form of scientific criminology emerged alongside many others scientific criminology many other scientific development. (Newburn, 2018).
Opposing classical the belief of punishment are the positivist who rose to prominence during 19th century who was influenced by the spirit of science. They rejected the philosophical underpinning regarding human nature of classicist and declared that punishment should fit the offender rather than the crime.( Walsh,Stohr and Hemmens, 2013)
For example Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909) was both a psychiatrist at the University of Turin and a physician employed in the Italia penal system. He looked at criminals as being throwbacks to more primitive stage of human development. (Newburn, 2018).
Lombroso was consumed with resolving the “problem” of the nature of the criminal (“quoted wolf gang 1960, 184). His theories although dismissed today, owed Charles Darwin The Origin of Species. (Roth, 2017).
The weakness of his theory that it was undoubtedly primitive methodology based on a very limited data in a simplistic way. Secondly; he demonstrated the importance of examining clinical and historical records. Thirdly; and mostly significantly he recognized the need for multi-factor explanations of crime that include hereditary, but social, cultural and economic factors. This was an important factor which was emphasized by his successors in early biological tradition EnricoFerri and Raffaele Garofalo. (Hopkins Burke, 2013)

The differences between the thinking behind the classical school criminology and the positivist school of criminology highlights the strength and weakness that are associated with the both. The classical school is much less biological fact and figures backing up its views, however it has proven successful in reducing crime rates and in providing a deterrent and a way in which to successfully contain individuals who oppose against the system.

These theories stated above are the foundation of criminology. However, as technology and scientific methods has advanced influence scholars, theories likewise have increased. I agree that the classical theory has its strength and weakness, but it has made a significant impact on criminological theory, and arguably, an even greater impact of the criminal justice system in the modern system to date as mentioned in this essay. The weakness in classical thinking was that they believed that individuals were rational beings who made decisions about how to behave and should be held to account for their decisions (Newburn, 2017). In which the positivist rejected the methodology of classicism and developed instead of a scientific approach of measuring and quantifying criminal behavior, producing biological, psychological and social theories. (Crow and Semmens, 2006)
However, they were heavily criticized on the grounds that unlike in the natural sciences. In response to such as in classical thinking they developed their methods and adjusted their principles to adapt to peculiarities of the social world, but at the same time retaining scientific principles.(Crow and Semmens, 2006)


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Routledge Taylor & Francis Group
2 Park Square, Milton Park Abingdon, ton Qxon Ox14 4rn
fourth edition 2014

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Routledge Taylor & Francis Group
2 Park Square, Milton Park Abingdon, ton Qxon Ox14 4rn
fourth edition 2017

3. Criminology Theory, Research and Policy
Gennaro F Vito, Jefferey .R.Maahs. Ronald
Jones and Barlett Publishers (2006) second edition uk

4. Iain Crow and Natasha Semmens :Researching Criminology
Open University Press (2006)
Two Penn Plaza New york 10121-2289 USA

5. Criminology :Tim Newburn
Routledge Taylor & Francis Group
2 Park Square, Milton Park Abingdon, ton Qxon Ox14 4rn
Third edition (2017)

6. The Reasoning Criminal: Rational choice Perspectives on Offending
Edited by Derek B Cornish, Ronald V Clarke (2017)

7. Global Organized Crime: A 21st Approach
Mitchel P. Roth (2017)
Routledge Second Edition

8. Corrections: A Text /reader Second edition
Mary.K Stohr, Hemmens (2012)
1 Oliver Yard
55 city road
London E1y 1s Uk

The classical school of criminological – Law Teacher…/criminology/the-classical-school-of-criminological.php


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