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Discuss, critically evaluating the ways in which positivist ideas have found expression in explanations of crime and criminality.

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Introduction

FOR THE ATTENTION OF PROFESSOR ADAM CRAWFORD 'The positivist method leads to the categorisation and differentiation of criminal types without end. It also tends to treat people as lacking free will, as they are perceived as destined to criminality by some prior factor or characteristic.' Discuss, critically evaluating the ways in which positivist ideas have found expression in explanations of crime and criminality. Over the years, the ideas and theories of criminologists have developed and as new theories have emerged, those surrounding the causes of crime have been widely studied. Early criminologists adopted a classical gaze, focusing on the crime committed as opposed to the criminal committing it. Beccaria and Bentham were two key role players in the eighteenth century, believing that everyone acts out of their own free will and that most crime is an exploitation of opportunity. They believed in deterrence and that clear laws should be set down so that everyone knew the consequences which would befall them were they to commit a certain crime. The theory was that human beings wished to avoid pain and loss in the pursuit of pleasure and profit and therefore, in order to deter committal of a crime, the punishment (pain) should outweigh the pleasure and gain of committing the crime. Classicism places certain crimes into certain categories and believes very much that human beings have the same free will and therefore the same choices of whether or not to commit a crime. ...read more.

Middle

Because of his seemingly reliable classification system, Lombroso often got called to testify at trials. S.J. Gould said of Lombroso's testimonies "...we cannot know how many men were condemned unjustly because they were extensively tattooed, failed to blush of had unusually large jaws or arms."1 This seems to be one of the more substantial arguments against scientific criminology. The fact that some people who have the characteristics associated with criminal deviance will overcome their natural criminal tendencies and be able to live normal lives should not go unnoticed. The argument here is that not everyone who shares the 'criminal' characteristics set down by Lombroso should immediately be classified in the same way. For example, in the early twentieth century a pupil of Lombroso's named Garofalo was involved with an American movement which took it upon themselves to sterilise thousands of society's deviants in order to prevent them from reproducing and bringing children who may share the same 'criminal' genes into the world. Although this is an extreme case of eugenics, it sparks the idea that in some cases, scientific criminology has been used in an immoral way, depriving people of basic human rights which even if these people are criminals, they are nevertheless entitled to. If Lombroso's theory that criminals are born bad is to be believed, then it could be said that people with criminal tendencies are in the same way mentally incapacitated. ...read more.

Conclusion

They also discovered that crime rates are higher in areas with social problems. These findings are important in the way we deal with crime today. Being able to pinpoint where criminal problems lie and do something about them is invaluable to the smoother running of a society. Also, the correlation between crime rates and social problems means that it is possible to tackle these problems by building new facilities for example, and therefore hopefully lowering crime rates. The positivist school of thought has helped society a great deal by laying out certain points, characteristics and patterns which should be looked for when dealing with and attempting to explain crime and criminality. The logic behind the theories gives clear, thought out analysis to what would otherwise be a society where the problem of crime is dealt with in a classical way, paying no attention to the root of the problem and heading straight for punishment instead of a cure for delinquency. Thanks to scientists such as Lombroso and Durkheim we can try and explain why criminals offend and why certain areas of a city or country have higher crime rates than others and although no one criminologist has come up with a faultless theory as to how we should best deal with crime, a combination of scientific and sociological positivist criminology is helping us to learn new techniques in crime prevention and the positive rehabilitation of offenders. ...read more.

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