Criminology is a study of crime, criminals and criminal justice. Ideas about criminal justice and crime arose in the 18th century during the enlightenment, but criminology as we know it today developed in the late 19th century. Criminology has been shaped by many different academic disciplines and has many different approaches. It explores the implications of criminal laws; how they emerge and work, then how they are violated and what happens to those violators. Laws are relative and historically shaped; they vary from time to time and from place to place (Carrabine et al, 2009).
This essay will be comparing the competing ideologies of two key thinkers in criminology; Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) and Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909). Cesare Beccaria is considered to be the ‘father’ of criminology and is associated with the classical school of criminology, although he was not a criminologist but an Italian economist; criminology did not exist at this time. Beccaria came from an aristocratic family and was schooled at a Jesuit school in Parma, then went onto complete a degree in law (Hayward et al, 2010).
He appealed to two key philosophical theories: utility and social contract and his hugely influential book ‘On Crimes and Punishments (1764)’ sought to apply enlightenment social contract theory to issues of crime and punishment with emphasis that individuals can only be legitimately bound to society if they comply with the societal arrangements (Hopkins Burke, 2009). He called for fair and just punishment to deter crime and suggested that people choose their behaviour, including criminal behaviour but the more swift, severe and certain the punishment then the better its ability to control that criminal behaviour.
The swifter the punishment is to the crime then the stronger that punishment is related to the crime (Hale et al, 2009). The book greatly influenced the reform of criminal law in Western Europe, and has influenced the judicial systems still in place in many nations today. Beccaria appealed that criminal law should guide and bind society by laying out clear, rational rules. All social action should be directed by the aim of achieving happiness for the greater number, and the avoidance of unnecessary pain or suffering (Hale et al, 2009).
These principles guided by Beccaria formed what is now referred to as Utilitarian thinking. Beccaria proposed a corpus of principles that authorities could follow and make their rule more rational and more effective. His system of legal reforms had clearly written laws, a restrained judiciary, with the abolishment of torture and a proportionality between a crime and the amount of punishment allocated to the offender (Paternoster, 2010). He believed that people are self-centred and egotistical, and therefore they must be driven by the fear of punishment (Siegel, 2012).
If the rules of this social contract were breached by committing criminal acts then punishment must inevitably follow. It was only in this way that the contract, which benefited all, could be maintained (Hayward et al, 2010). Every individual is bound to society and society is bound to every individual. This is a pact which places obligations onto both parties (Beccaria, 1767). Beccaria was against capital punishment and argued that the punishment should fit the crime and not the individual. Capital punishment is not essential to deter, and long-time imprisonment would be a more powerful deterrent as execution is quick and short-lived.
The death penalty is not a matter or right and is neither useful nor necessary (Beccaria, 1764). He argued that punishment must be proportionate to the crime: crimes that are less serious should be allocated the least painful of punishments but the crimes that cause the greatest damage to society need to be punished with the most severity (Paternoster, 2010). Beccaria also stated that we are all rational and capable of calculating what is in our own self- interest and have the same capacity to avoid crime.
It is better to try and prevent crimes than it is to punish them, this is achieved by good legislation which guides men to their greatest, or least unhappiness possible (Beccaria, 1767). As mentioned previously, Beccaria’s utilitarian ideology has shaped the justice system in western societies for many decades. Therefore, Beccaria can be described as a very influential thinker. Without his contribution we could still have a system of capital punishment, and that is a worrying thought. However, we now seem fixed with utilitarian justice.
It may be argued that it is now time to move towards restorative justice. There are also those such as Tullock (1974), who argue for a return to harsher sentencing. Some states in the US still consider the death penalty to be a legitimate punishment. So it can be said that Beccaria is undoubtedly a key thinker in criminology, but as with all key thinkers he is not without his critics. Cesare Lombroso was also Italian but came from a Jewish family and is very different to Beccaria. He trained as a medical doctor and graduated in 1858.
He was a leading contributor in the development of a positivist criminology which collected and looked into scientific measurements for the explanation of criminal behaviour and crime (Hayward et al, 2010). Nearly all biological theories stem from Lombroso and his book ‘The Criminal man’ published in 1876, although Lombroso enlarged upon and updated this original publication through five editions and also published separate volumes about the female criminal and the causes and remedies of crime (Akers, 2000). The ‘born criminal’ is one of Lombroso’s concepts in his development of ‘criminal types’.
He is also closely associated with the view that criminal behaviour in our modern society hails from an evolutionary throw-back to a less civilised form of society. This theory is called ‘atavism’ (Hayward et al, 2010). This term was used to describe those that were not fully evolved. Lombroso argued that most humans evolve but some devolve, becoming primitive (Lombroso, 1876). In 1859 war broke out and the four years in which Lombroso served he undertook a study of 3,000 soldiers alongside his military duties. He looked at cases of cretinism, epilepsy and pellagra which he diligently recorded.
After this Lombroso worked in asylums as a director for nine years and enjoyed studying and collecting artefacts relating to primitive people (Hayward et al, 2010). Lombroso was influenced by the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and placed them together with craniometry and phrenology to make the suggestion that criminals had primitive impulses already imprinted into their bodies (Hayward et al, 2010). In one study of the criminal man Lombroso examined sixty six skulls and found that cranial sutures in the bones of the skull were normal n only 17 cases. He found that the cranial sutures were still open in some at the age of seventy five or over and this was true of men like Pietrotto, Villella and Soldati who were all famous for eluding capture and committing crimes into old age. Other abnormalities he found and which he linked to the criminal mind were particularly large and abnormally small cranial circumferences. The skulls which had a small cranial capacity also exhibited monkey like anomalies (Lombroso, 1876).
After 3000 anthropometric measurements Lombroso found biological traits of the born criminal, from unusual sizes or shapes of the head, extended jaws, strange eyes and facial asymmetry. He reported that murderers have a beak nose and thieves displayed a flat nose. A person who had five or more of these biological traits were classified as born criminals (Theoretical criminology, 2011). The born criminal is identified by Lombroso as being epileptic, with criminality and moral insanity as a subset of epilepsy (Boyeskie and Walker, 2001). Lombroso found his typology of the born criminal in a Calabrian outlaw called Musolino.
Musolino’s physiognomy had an asymmetrical face, receding forehead and protruding eyebrows. This criminal displayed no signs of remorse but held a high opinion of himself. Because Musolino possessed a high intelligence, Lombroso states he was not just a simple born criminal but fell between that category and the world of the criminaloid (Pick, 2004). Other traits of the born criminal which Lombroso introduced where special criminal slang, hypersensitivity on touch and pain, grotesque expression of thoughts, tattoos and unemployment (Theoretical criminology, 2011).
Lombroso stated four typologies of criminals, the first being the born criminal which were true atavistic types, then the insane criminal, which covered the offenders who were mentally disordered. The next typology is the occasional criminal; this covered the opportunist offender with offending traits or ‘criminaloid’. The final typology is crimes of passion, offences due to irresistible force (Akers, 2000). Lombroso’s view on women was that most were not criminal and those that were, most often are the occasional criminal.
Although some women he reported to be atavistic criminals, he claimed these were more vicious then men and more difficult to detect. One such case he reported to be the inborn female criminal was Marie Lafarge who was sentenced to life imprisonment for poisoning her husband in 1841 (Downing, 2009). Lombroso compared criminals with the insane and established that the criminal had more cranial abnormalities than the latter. He added that most of the insane are not born so and become mad, but criminals are born with inclinations to be evil.
The normal skulls of the black community and inferior races were also noted to have these abnormalities (Lombroso, 1876). Modern biological studies have found no difference in structures between races. This may be because humans have evolved further since Lombroso’s study; it may be because Lombroso spotted something that today’s biologists would be too fearful to disclose, in fear of being branded a racist, or it may be that Lombroso himself actively looked for such abnormalities in order to support his own prejudices and ideas. It is not possible to say which is the case.
There are many theorists such as West (1988), who would be quick to ridicule the ideas of Lombroso because his ideology suggested that deviant individuals were ‘born criminals’. Most theory in today’s society involves the psychological and sociological influences on those who resort to criminality. While Lombroso’s biological ideas are no longer prevalent, he can be applauded for giving a scientific dimension to the discipline. Without this Criminology may not have evolved into a social sciences theme. Although as described Beccaria and Lombroso had very differing ideologies they both made a massive impact upon the world of Criminology.
Beccaria helped transform the legal system from one which was unjust and cruel to one that uses deterrence and due process in the aims of treating all people equally. Within this classical school of criminology the belief was that individuals are rational and use free will to make decisions, according to their own purpose. It shifted the focus to punishing offending behaviour rather than addressing social characteristics. Lombroso’s theory was from a biological perspective, which centred more on the born criminal who can be recognised through their identifying characteristics or the criminaloid who is motivated by passion.
Beccaria’s solution to criminal behaviour involved deterrence theory and although society is justified in the punishment of criminals for its own protection the severity of the punishment would have no effect on the natural born criminal. Therefore, according to Lombroso it would be in their innate biological makeup to be criminal, which cannot be affected by law. Beccaria shaped the justice system with utilitarianism and his ideas are still important today. Lombroso shaped criminology by making transforming the study of crime into a scientific discipline rather than a purely legal one.
However, His studies as well as being unethical in today’s society could also be classified as discriminatory to many groups, especially to women and the black community. The classical school of Criminology is more humanistic and focuses on the actual crime itself, biological positivism concentrates on the individual criminal and is scientific. Both were undoubtedly instrumental in developing Criminology as a discipline. While they both have critics they are still talked about by Academics today highlighting the importance of their ideologies to the field.