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The Classical School of Criminology

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The Classical School of Criminology The Classical School of Criminology evolved out of a response against the barbaric system of law, justice and punishment that subsisted before 1789. It sought an emphasis on free will and human rationality. The Classical School was not interested in studying criminals, but rather law-making and legal processing. They believed that humans were hedonistic but rational beings, deterred from unlawful behaviour by threat of sanction. Therefore, punishment is made in order to deter people from committing crime. Classical theory focused on a legal definition of crime rather than a definition of criminal behaviour. Two famous philosophers of this classical epoch were Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. Beccaria focused on the law, its punishments, and its outcome on the individual--crime was a result of bad laws not bad people; Bentham was concerned with utilitarianism-the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Both men supported the idea of a social contract-individuals agree to give up some of their freedom to the state, and in return, the state will protect them; people create the government to defend their mutual promises by laws and punishments. While Beccaria's ideas hailed him as "the father of criminology", his ideas along with Bentham's paved the way for human rights and free will. ...read more.


Beccaria states that the punishment must be proportional to the crime-hence, it should not be excessively harsher than the crime (1764, p.281). Excessive punishments actually encourage crime-by making minor and serious offences equally punishable, disproportionate punishments make it in the interests of would-be offenders to commit the more serious crimes (Brantingham, 2001). My concern is one of determining suitable proportionality for a crime-it is not written out specifically for each crime, like the Criminal Code is, making it difficult for a judge to apply suitable punishment proportionality to the crime. Therefore, I think proportionality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder-except it is the judge who has the actual say in proportionality. This is why people are allowed to appeal their sentence and why others protest, criticize, and complain about a given one. In my opinion, the average punishments for Canadian crimes are not justified-criminals are getting off easy, and that is unacceptable. Aggravated sexual assault is life without parole for 25 years, yet the average time served is about 37 months. Justification relies on empirical demonstration that general and specific deterrence is accomplished (Brantingham, 2001). General deterrence in this case may result in high recidivism rates due to the fact that this example lacks proportionality and celerity (from previous example). ...read more.


Classical theory is also supported by due process-to ensure that the government does not act oppressively or tolerate appreciable risks of inaccurate findings of guilt (Packer, 1968, p.303-305). This is probably where certain individuals may see the criminal justice system as lenient since due process advocates are willing to release the factually guilty to deter government violations of rights. The Rule of Strict Interpretation states that the scope of criminal law should be applied to the smallest possible set of behaviours and judicial application of it should always opt to cover the fewest possible types of behaviour (Brantingham, 2001). Therefore, if the law restricts too many behaviors, then too many things will be considered a crime, and the purpose of the social contract will be flawed. Beccaria and Bentham were strong influences in the Classical School of Criminology. Being advocates of the social contract they believed that it was in the society's best interest that the government ensured the safety and happiness of society. Beccaria believed that efficacy in the law and its punishments would ensure this security while Bentham's utilitarianism complimented this belief. Together they formed the basis for future generations of criminal justice systems around the world-including our very own Canadian criminal justice system today. ...read more.

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