Principles of Classical Criminology

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The classical school of criminology reformed how courts administer punishments, developing a code of ethics to ensure that those who commit crimes receive a fair trial and the appropriate punishment. Discover the classical school of criminology.


What Is the Classical School of Criminology?

The classical school of criminology, which emerged during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment movement, brought together theorists who believed that reason was a missing but necessary component of existing criminal justice systems. Criminologists consider Cesare Beccaria, an Italian philosopher and criminologist, to be the founder of this school of thought. His thoughts on crime and punishment have had a long-lasting influence on due process and modern legal systems.

Humans enter a social contract with free will and act in self-interest, according to Beccaria's criminology theory. Humans also understand that a peaceful society free of criminal activity is in their best interests. Beccaria's approach to criminal law emphasizes that deterrents to criminal behavior in the eighteenth century were ambiguous, and that capital punishments in judicial systems tended to be cruel and unfair. He believed that reforming these systems could lead to greater crime prevention. Beccaria's contemporary in England, Jeremy Bentham, was a social reformer and contributor to the classical school of criminology. Bentham advocated for welfare, the separation of church and state in criminology, the abolition of slavery, the death penalty, and the concept of "natural law," or the belief that jurisdiction power is "God-given."


What Is the Difference Between Positivist and Classical Criminology?

How positivist and classical approaches to criminal law measure and respond to crime differ. According to Cesare Beccaria, a philosopher and criminologist, human selfishness can lead to crime, and swift punishment will help deter society from continuing illegal activity. The theory also holds that fair trials are required to maintain a person's humanity, and that penalties should be proportionate to the crime.

The positivist school of criminology focuses on the person rather than the crime, analyzing the motivation behind the action. Positivists will investigate the social barriers that some people face and how those constraints can lead to an increase in crime. Today, criminal justice systems frequently combine these two approaches, and their differences, benefits, and drawbacks are frequently studied in social sciences.


3 Principles of the Classical School of Criminology

Classical criminology principles include the following:

1. A clear system of justice: Individual judges frequently impose their own punishments, resulting in a variable system. People would know the exact sentence for a crime if there were clear guidelines and a cohesive criminal justice system.

2. Fair and equal treatment: Mild criminal activity frequently results in severe punishment, such as the death penalty. This traditional school of thought considers human rights and advocates for sentences that are proportionate to the severity of the crime.

3. Swift punishment: According to Beccaria's crime study, admonishing swift punishment showed definitive consequences to illegal activity, which would lower crime rates. Prolonged trials would highlight the gray areas of an ambiguous system and demonstrate to those who might commit crimes that punishment does not always directly follow a crime.


Implications of the Classical School of Criminology

Some important implications of this classical school of thought are that judges act consistently and fairly, that swift punishment deters wrongdoing, and that people want to live in a crime-free society. Enlightenment criminologists observed that patterns of discipline varied greatly from court to court and that many rulings did not correspond to the severity of the crime. These theorists argue that their way of thinking will deter crime by informing people about the consequences of crimes through a unified set of rules.

These implications pervade modern criminal justice systems as well as sociological theories. For example, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial. Nonetheless, the degree of fairness is still subjective to individual courts and laws, which can have an impact on the classicists' pure intentions. Another implication is that punishment is always a reaction to a crime, which some modern criminal justice reform advocates question.

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