The Development of Criminology

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This essay will describe the development of criminology, including an explanation of the early approaches to the arguments for the ‘rehabilitation’ of criminals and for the ‘treatment’ of criminals and will compare and contrast these theories.

In the pre-enlightenment era scientists began to look for the reasons behind individuals carrying out criminal or deviant acts. Scientists questioned if all crimes were due to being under the influence of the devil. At this time punishment for criminal activity was barbaric. Judges, at their whim, would pass down sentences of torture. This level of torture was the same for petty crimes as it was more serious ones: a hungry child stealing a loaf of bread could easily lose a hand but that same punishment could be given to a more serious crime. Hangings, floggings, being placed in the stocks or the amputation of limbs was commonplace. These sentences would be carried out in a public arena, as this was thought to deter any further criminal behaviour from the onlookers.

An Italian Scientist Ceaser Baccaria with a background believed in the theory of free-will. He theorised that the punishment for criminals should fit the severity of the crime, a judge should only decide guilt and that punishments should be preordained. He believed that the barbaric torture techniques of the era were not conducive to reducing or deterring crime.

Baccaria theorised that humans are rational actors, that if presented with the absolute consequences of a crime, that they would make a rational choice. They would choose if the pleasure of the crime was worth the pain of the punishment should they be caught. It was Baccaria’s belief that punishment should not be of a torturous nature and that sentence should be passed quickly as this would deter further criminal behaviour. He also believed that Crime was not related to religion or superstition. The secular beliefs of Baccaria were radical during this era.

Barraria believed that fines or prison sentences in fit for purpose prisons was the answer. These prisons he believed would allow for Criminals to be rehabilitated and they could even, in some cases, eventually be returned to society.

Casare Lombroso an Italian Physician, dismissed Baccaria’s theory. He believed that a Biological Theory was true. Lombroso theorised that some individuals are born criminals. That committing crimes or engaging in deviant behaviour is inherited and genetically in their nature. That committing crimes is an instinct that they cannot control. He classes the congenital criminal as an anomally, partly pathological and partly atavistic, a revival of the primital savage, that they are in fact a subspecies of human (Ferrero, 1911).

Lombroso started his research into the cause of criminal behaviour by interviewing and studying criminals in prison and penal institutions. But it was in 1870 whilst performing the autopsy of criminal Giuseppe Villella, that he noticed cranial differences and thus began his theory. He wrote “like a large plain beneath an infinite horizon, the problem of the nature of the delinquent was illuminated which reproduced in our time the characteristics of primitive man right down to the carnivores.” (Mazzarello, 2011, 97-101).

He believed these defects could also distinguish between what type of crimes the individual would carry out. He believed “violators of woman have swollen, protruding lips but swindlers have thin straight lips” (Ferrero, 1911, 16) and “nose twisted, upturned, or flattened in thieves, or aquiline or beaklike in murderers” (Newton, 2007, 123).

His research identified a subset of criminal that he named Habitual Criminals. These were criminals prone to petty acts of crime, that they were not born criminal but reverted to primal tendencies due to poor education or training. This Criminal he believed was capable of rehabilitation. (Newton, 207, 123)

Lombroso believed that criminals deserved humane treatment although they should be removed from society for their own sake as well as societies. He advocated against capital punishment.

Both Bacarria and Lombrosso are considered to be the founding fathers of criminology, although neither ever used the term.

In conclusion, both Scientists were producing radical theories that argued the Nature or Nurture question within criminology. In comparison, however, both Theorists regarded Crime as secular and agreed that humane not barbaric treatment of offenders was the answer to reducing criminal activity in Society. Bacarria and Lombroso’s theories overlap slightly in one subset of offenders, the habitual criminals, as Lombroso believed that they were the only offenders capable of rehabilitation.

The contrasting theories differed in Beccaria and Lombroso’s approach to researching their theories. Baccaria looked at the offence and argued that crimes were born from free-will and that punishment and rehabilitation would reduce Crime in society. He believed that nurture was the underlying cause Whereas, Lombroso looked at the Offender and believed that criminals were acting out their predetermined inherited nature and that treatment would reduce Crime therefore nature was the cause.  

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The Development Of Criminology. (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved May 20, 2024 , from

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