Prior tocriminology, criminals were seen as rather than that as just ‘harmful’ and’dangerous’, but as “evil” people, who committed sin and were corrupted. Thismeant that not only would the legal system at the time label criminals as thesesinful beings, but also to treat them like it with their punishments – inthought that these were the commandments of God. This was the crime controlbefore the enlightenment; instilling fear, shame and guilt to those who wereseen as evil.
Enlightenment philosophers Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Baron deMontesquieu (1689-1755) were very influential on the lead up to new criminologytheories, and created the motto for the enlightenment period as “Dare to wise!(Sapere aude.) “Have the courage touse your own understanding”.Jeremy Bentham(1748-1833) and Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) were the two main theorists forclassical criminology, and who made a huge impact on the legal system and whoreally introduced criminology, after being influenced by Kant and Montesquieu’senlightenment. Beccaria founded the Classical School and book “Of Crime and Punishment” (1764) whichfully showed a greater understanding for what negatives the Justice System atthe time had, and that was unjust, focusing on the physically punishingcriminals – prison was a place to hold offenders before their punishment ratherthan holding them there as punishment. Beccaria was against the way in whichthe justice system dealt with criminals at the time, especially torture anddeath penalty, arguing “A strange consequence which necessarily follows fromthe use of torture is that the innocent are put in a worse position than theguilty.
For, if both are tortured, the former has everything against him…Therefore, the innocent man cannot but lose and the guilty man may gain’.Beccaria (1995, p. 67). Beccaria believed that the legal system should focus onpreventing crimes rather than punishing them with actions such as the deathpenalty, as “they are not useful because they are not a reparation and offer nosafeguard to society in the prevention of crimes, which are the proper groundsfor punishment” Beccaria (1995) On Crimesand Punishment. He understood the fact that many may be opposed to theidea, especially considering original punishment related to God and his commandments,however explained that punishments should be kept proportionate to the crime inwhich is committed, and that that the criminal law should be reformedconsidering to the criminal, the pleasure of criminal activity overweighs thatof the pain. Jeremy Bentham(1748-1833) was the founder of ‘utilitarianism’and the creator of “the Panopticon” –he believed that the prison should also be the punishment for crime, and for itto punish mind, soul and body, rather than physical punishment – meaning thatonce leaving prison the offender would have changed, and be unwilling toreoffend.
Bentham believed that crime was committed due to the benefits – that criminalsseek excitement, money, sex, and to discourage this, the pain of punishment shouldoverweigh the benefit of the crime committed.Both Beccaria, Benthamand the founding of the Classical School of criminology have made huge advancementsin our criminal justice system and legislations, understanding the criminal, thevictim and crime control with a progressive to the earlier, medieval idea ofcriminals being “evil”. They understand that people are rational beings; that theyare aware of their doings and have the free will on whether to abide or break criminallaw and the social contract, and with just torture and death penalty will not preventthis crime from occurring. This lead to the birth of a modernised society, andscientific enquiries into crime.
However, this criminologicaltheory is challenged by the positivist theory; Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) and ‘The Born Criminal’, shifting the view of’free will’ towards scientific views, experimentations and based on the CharlesDarwin Theory. Classical criminology focuses on the philosophy of criminaljustice, whereas positivist criminology is focussed on ‘science of the criminal’.Lombroso described the criminal as pre-modern – that people are born intocriminality and that there are physical and psychological abnormalities todefine those who are criminal, and that opposed to Beccaria, Lombroso believedthat “punishment be tailored to individual criminals rather than totheir crimes. He explicitly rejected the principle of moral responsibility,arguing that criminals acted out of compulsion from either their innatephysical and psychological degeneracy or from the social environment” Gibsonand Rafter (2016, pp. 70).
However, despite this opposing view from Lombroso, itdid not disprove the Classical principles, but did bring up a couple weaknesses.Classical criminology does not consider the fact that not everyonemay be rational – some people may be born with a distorted mind, or may becomeirrational due to mental illnesses, schizophrenia or if they’ve been drugged.At this point, individuals may be unaware of what they’re doing. Alongsidethis, not everyone has the same reasoning – some may be too young to understand,may have learning difficulties or other issues which hinder their understanding.An important question is ‘how is rationality defined? There may be a poorparent who steals on regular occurrence in order to feed their children, but dothey have the choice, otherwise they may starve. Another point to bring up isthat although Classical criminology focuses on the criminal and crime control,they do not mention the victim or how certain things may affect them – the ideais to create a punishment equal to the crime which has been committed, however,the victim or family of the victim may think the punishment given is too forgiving.
There’s also the issue that ‘is everyone equal before the law’? as Classical criminologydoes not mention anything about gendered criminologies – females tend to be letoff more lightly than when males commit crimes. The Classical School of Criminology did result in the removalof capital punishment, torture and corporal punishment – which Beccaria andBentham believed are useless punishments, except for in the case of murder inBentham’s view.