The origins of criminology are usually located in the late-eighteenth-century writings of those who sought to reform criminal justice and penal systems that they perceived as cruel, inhumane, and ARBITRARY. These old systems applied the law unequally, were subject to great corruption, and often used torture and the death penalty indiscriminately.
The leading theorist of this classical school of criminology, the Italian Cesare BONESANO BECCARIA (1738–94), argued that the law must apply equally to all, and that punishments for specific crimes should be standardized by legislatures, thus avoiding judicial abuses of power. Both Beccaria and another classical theorist, the Englishman JEREMY BENTHAM (1748–1832), argued that people are rational beings who exercise free will in making choices. Beccaria and Bentham understood the dominant motive in making choices to be the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Thus, they argued that a punishment should fit the crime in such a way that the pain involved in potential punishment would be greater than any pleasure derived from committing the crime. The writings of these theorists led to greater CODIFICATION and standardization of European and U.S. laws.
Criminologists of the early nineteenth century argued that legal punishments that had been created under the guidance of the classical school did not sufficiently consider the widely varying circumstances of those who found themselves in the gears of the criminal justice system. Accordingly, they proposed that those who could not distinguish right from wrong, particularly children and mentally ill persons, should be exempted from the punishments that were normally meted out to mentally capable adults who had committed the same crimes. Along with the contributions of a later generation of criminologists, known as the positivists, such writers argued that the punishment should fit the criminal, not the crime.
Later in the nineteenth century, the positivist school of criminology brought a scientific approach to criminology, including findings from biology and medicine. The leading figure of this school was the Italian Cesare Lombroso (1836–1909). Influenced by Charles R. Darwin's theory of evolution, Lombroso measured the physical features of prison inmates and concluded that criminal behavior correlated with specific bodily characteristics, particularly cranial, skeletal, and neurological malformations. According to Lombroso, biology created a criminal class among the human population. Subsequent generations of criminologists have disagreed harshly with Lombroso's conclusions on this matter. However, Lombroso had a more lasting effect on criminology with other findings that emphasized the multiple causes of crime, including environmental causes that were not biologically determined. He was also a pioneer of the case-study approach to criminology.
Other late-nineteenth-century developments in criminology included the work of statisticians of the cartographic school, who analyzed data on population and crime. These included Lambert Adolphe Quetelet, (1796– 1874) of France and André Michel Guerry, of Belgium. Both of these researchers compiled detailed, statistical information relating to crime and also attempted to identify the circumstances that predisposed people to commit crimes.
The writings of French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) also exerted a great influence on criminology. Durkheim advanced the hypothesis that criminal behavior is a normal part of all societies. No society, he argued, can ever have complete uniformity of moral consciousness. All societies must permit some deviancy, including criminal deviancy, or they will stagnate. He saw the criminal as an acceptable human being and one of the prices that a society pays for freedom.
Durkheim also theorized about the ways in which modern, industrial societies differ from nonindustrial ones. Industrial societies are not as effective at producing what Durkheim called a collective conscience that effectively controls the behavior of individuals. Individuals in industrial societies are more likely to exhibit what Durkheim called anomie—a Greek word meaning "without norms." Consequently, modern societies have had to develop specialized laws and criminal justice systems that were not necessary in early societies to control behavior.
Early efforts to organize criminologists in the United States attracted law enforcement officials and others who were interested in the criminal justice system. In 1941, a group of individuals in California organized for the purpose of improving police training and the standardization of police-training curricula. In 1946, this movement developed into the establishment of the Society for the Advancement of Criminology, which changed its name to the American Society of Criminology in 1957. Initial efforts of this organization focused upon scientific crime detection, investigation, and identification; crime prevention, public safety, and security; law enforcement administration; administration of criminal justice; traffic administration; and probation.
The American Society of Criminology has since attracted thousands of members, including academics, practitioners, and students of the criminal justice system. Studies of criminology include both the theoretical and the pragmatic, and some combine elements of both. Although some aspects of criminology as a science are still considered radical, others have developed as standards in the study of crime and criminal justice.
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