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What are the key differences between positivism and classicist approaches to crime control? Which should form the focus of crime prevention policy?

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Introduction

What are the key differences between positivism and classicist approaches to crime control? Which should form the focus of crime prevention policy? Crime can be defined as "an illegal act or omission prohibited and punishable by law."1 Initially definitions of crime may seem clear-cut and uncontroversial, however on closer examination all is not as straightforward as it seems. In The Problem of Crime, Muncie and McLaughlin question the accuracy of dictionary definitions implying that these pose questions rather than providing answers. They suggest "to appreciate fully the complexities of the question, 'what is crime?' we need to broaden our enquiry to include some understanding of criminal law, social mores and social order." In today's society crime is an ever-growing concern for all including ordinary civilians and those in power. Escalating levels of crime indicate that action must be taken to resolve this issue. Theorists in both the social and criminal field have provided answers for causes of crime in order to prevent it and discourage individuals in society who may have the propensity to carry out criminal acts. An analysis of the two leading theories in this field, the positivist and the classicist, focusing on the key differences between the two approaches will assist in concluding on which of the two approaches will succeed in becoming the focus on crime prevention policies. ...read more.

Middle

The idea of reform is completely disregarded, there is also a failure to recognise stigmatisation and a heavy reliance falls on punishment. Fundamental differences can be identified between the two theories. The definition of crime provided is the essence of any crime prevention strategy. The classicists and the positivists disagree on this very basic matter. Beccaria states crime to be 'what violates the social contract, concentrating on the act, rather than the person who performs it.' Lombroso however has argued for a wider definition claiming that legal definitions are restricted and an untrue reflection of true consensual values. Contrasting views of human nature can be found as the classicist view is based on free will. An individual acts solely from a decision, which highlights their self-interest rather than societies. "Man is always responsible for every one of his acts, for the sole reason that he lives in society, and for as long as he does." (Ferri 1928) The positivist theory however rejects the concept of free will, asserting that human nature ultimately depends on individual circumstances. "He who is born with weak social instincts runs more danger of becoming criminal. But the certainty that he will become such does not exist - that depends on the environment." (Bonger 1936) Each human being is subject to their individual nature and circumstances so equality in society is non-existent and free will is restrictive. ...read more.

Conclusion

Positivism clearly favours control and it is a lack of this, which is believed to contribute to the escalating number of crimes. It is evident that both the classicist and the positivist theories play an important part in crime prevention. However for the benefit of the question only one can be successful in becoming the focus of crime prevention policy. The differences between both theories as highlighted above are great in number and equal in importance. The key differences including the definitions of crime, the reasons as to why crime occurs, human nature and proposed solutions. Although the classicism approach may be easier to implement it is not necessarily the best answer. Harsher punishments may not be an effective deterrent. They may in fact have the opposite effect. This theory seems to be obsolete whereas the positivist theory is clearly more understanding for society today. Although it may be more challenging, attempts to reform individuals committing crime should be made rather than severely punishing them. Therefore positivism should ultimately form the focus of crime prevention policy as it holds the stronger argument. 1 Collins Concise Dictionary, Harpercollins Publishers, 5th edition, 2001 2 Criminal Justice One, Lecture 4, 'Classicism and Positivism', Darke, Sacha, 2004 3 Snipes, B, Jeffrey, Theoretical Criminology, Oxford University Press, 5th ed, 2002 4 Theoretical Criminology, Vold, B, George, Oxford University Press, 2002, p27 5 Researching Crime and Criminal Justice, Sapsford, R, The Open University, p269 6 Article from lecture supplementary booklet, tutorial 4 Sannia Hussain 03147328 ...read more.

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