The Classical School of Criminology


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Jay Wooten

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The Classical School of Criminology

  1. 1. By: JayWooten
  2. 2.  The Classical school ofcriminology is a body ofthought about thereform of crime and thebest methods ofpunishment by a group ofEuropean philosophersand scholars in theeighteenth century(WiseGeek, 2003). It took place during theEnlightenment, amovement inWesterncountries that promotedthe use of reason as thebasis of legal authority. Italian philosopher CesareBeccaria is considered tobe the founder of theClassical school.
  3. 3.  The most important feature of the classicalschool of thought is its emphasis on theindividual criminal as a person who iscapable of calculating what he or she wantsto do (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011).
  4. 4.  Cesare Beccaria and other members of the ClassicalSchool of criminology believed that criminalbehavior could be minimized using the basics ofhuman nature. According to the Classical School of criminology,individuals were guided by a pain-and-pleasureprinciple by which they calculated the risks andrewards involved in their actions (Lilly, Cullen, &Ball, 2011). Overall, punishment should be suited to the offense,not to the social or physical characteristics of thecriminal.
  5. 5.  For a rational system of criminal justice to work,punishment must be certain, swift, and proportional. The ultimate goal was to insure that the benefits ofcrime never outweighed the potential pain frompunishments the offender would receive (Greek,2005). Certainty required that all offenders be punished; themore criminals who escaped punishment the less theimpact on the minds of others contemplating suchbehavior (Greek, 2005).
  6. 6.  The Classical school of criminologyargued that the most effectivedeterrent for criminal behavior wouldbe swift punishment rather than longtrials. They felt that criminal actions wereirrational behavior and came frompeople who could not or did not act intheir best self-interests or society’s. The school sought to reduce crimethrough reform to the criminalpunishment system, which they felttended to be cruel and excessivewithout reason as well as anineffective deterrent (WiseGeek,2003). Members of the schoolcontended thatpunishments needed tobe consistently enactedfor specific crimes withno specialcircumstances in orderto demonstrate topeople that criminalactivity will not benefitthem because there aredefinite consequences(WiseGeek, 2003).
  7. 7.  A major part of the criminal punishmentreform that the Classical school of criminologyfought for was fair and equal treatment ofaccused offenders. Prior to the school’s fight for reform, judgescould punish criminals at their own willsregardless of the severity of the crime, whichled some to view the criminal punishmentsystem as oppressive, cruel, and unfair.
  8. 8.  Cesare Beccaria and other members foughtfor punishments for specific crimes to be setby legislature and not to allow judgesunbridled power. They felt that if judges could only applylegislatively sanctioned punishments, trialswould be quick and criminals would receivetheir punishments faster.
  9. 9.  The Classical School mainly focuses on thecrime itself and not necessarily the criminal. The Classical School aims to prevent crimes andhave punishments for each offense committedby criminals established in advance. Overall, the Classical School focuses onpreventing crimes than to punish the peoplewho commit them.
  10. 10.  Greek, C. (2005). The classical school. Retrieved from Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F.T. & Ball, R. A. (2011).Criminological theory: Context and consequences (5thEd.).Washington D.C: Sage. WiseGeek. (2003). What is the classical school ofcriminology? Retrieved from