What Is Positivist Criminology Theory?

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In criminal justice, positivism explains that the causes of crimes are not motivated by malice, but by social factors that influence human behavior and cause people to deviate from rational choices. Discover the features of positivist criminology.

Positivist criminology holds that the motivation for a crime extends beyond the person who commits the crime. Social conditions, including external, biological, and psychological factors, influence criminal behavior, according to positivist criminology theory. The positivist theory of criminology seeks to comprehend various types of criminals and the underlying causes of their illegal behavior in order to improve society—its systems and people—and thus reduce criminal activity holistically.

Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist from the nineteenth century, pioneered the positivist approach. He rejected the classical theory (popularized by another Italian theorist, Cesare Beccaria), which holds that criminals are born or that free will and selfishness can lead to crime. Lombroso's theories on crime, deviance, and delinquency are linked to factors beyond the control of a criminal, and understanding those factors and how to reform them may lead to lower crime rates.


Positivist vs. Classical Criminology: What's the Difference?

How positivist and classical approaches to criminal law measure and respond to crime differ. According to Beccaria's classical school of criminology, human selfishness can lead to crime, and swift punishment will help deter society from engaging in further 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 constraints that some criminals face, as well as how those constraints can increase crime. Today, criminal justice systems frequently combine these two approaches, and their differences, benefits, and drawbacks are frequently studied in social sciences.


3 Characteristics of Positivist Criminology

Positivist criminologists investigate the sociological factors that influence criminals. Positivist criminology has the following characteristics:

1. Positivist criminologists are proponents of reform. Positivists value reform over punishment because they believe that punishment will not fix the system that caused the crime and that reform (both within the individual and within society as a whole) is required to see change and lower crime rates.

2. Patterns are identified by positivist criminologists. Positivists study criminal patterns to determine why they occur and whether there are any variables that link certain crimes, such as age, racial demographic, income, mental state, or location.

3. Positivist criminologists study criminal backgrounds. Many factors influence the commission of a crime, according to positivist criminologists. Investigating a person's life and experiences can assist judicial systems in learning how to better treat the convicted.


Examples of Positivist Criminology

Positivist criminology is applicable in a wide range of situations. Those who are short on resources, for example, may be more likely to steal food because they require it to survive but cannot afford meals. Positivist criminology examines these social conditions and advocates for reform rather than outright punishment.

Similarly, a person in poor mental health may commit a crime in order to demonstrate the need for psychological treatment. In these cases, reform rather than punishment can reduce the likelihood of the same person committing the same crime again.

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