The Strengths and Weaknesses of Classical Criminology
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The Strengths and Weaknesses of Classical Criminology The development of the Classical theory was at a time where society was experiencing vast changes with the movement from feudalism to that of capitalism. This substantial transition took place in the 18th Century or Renaissance period where views and attitudes on religion were being challenged. Due to the influence of religion upon society at the time the challenge that it faced deeply affected society, including that of attitudes to crime. Feudalism was based upon repression with the majority of power, wealth and land being in the hands of only a few people. There was a significant absence of legal rights, punishment was brutal and justice was personalised. In reaction to this a group known as the 'enlightenment' philosophers emerged who argued that 'human problems should be tackled by the application of reason, rather than tradition, religion or superstition.'1 The Enlightenment thinkers argued for a criminal justice system which was 'predictable, non-discriminatory, humane and effective.'2 This line of argument formed the basis for the classicalist theory. The Classical theory relies on the principle that humans have individual rights, the capacity to reason and the 'rule of law.'
The introduction of 'mitigating circumstances' as a possible solution could be countered in that it would conflict with the free will and rational argument upon which the Classical theory is based. The Classical theory also fails to recognise that crime is not distributed throughout society equally. The Classical argument suggests crime occurs due to temporary irrationality but this does not explain why crime occurs in predominately low income areas.9 Classical theory fails to recognise that the inequalities in society are often the cause of crime and when suggesting all are equal before the law we are confronted with a major contradiction. The inequality in society also highlights the difference between formal law and substantive law because certain individuals in society have the means to exploit the legal system through knowledge and lawyers whereas others cannot.10 Similarly with punishments, which although may be proportional to the crime, affect members of society in noticeably different ways. For example a poorer individual may experience far greater implications upon being found guilty, in that they could lose income and any future work opportunities, whereas a more affluent person could still manage.
Thinking Seriously about Crime: some models of criminology by Jock Young pg 8 6 Thinking Seriously about Crime: some models of criminology by Jock Young pg 9 7 'laws could promote crime by diminishing the human spirit therefore a careful matching of the crime and its punishment, in keeping with the general interests of society, could make punishment a rational instrument of government.' by Beccaria in Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism by Wayne Morrison pg.74 8 Crime and Criminology an introduction by R.D White and Fiona Haines pg 32 9 'Rational choice may lead some to offend precisely because of social inequalities. Equality before the law masks this reality.' Crime and Criminology an introduction by R.D White and Fiona Haines pg 33 10 'It is a common complaint that a powerful individual or organisation appears able to avoid the spirit of the law, while complying with the letter of the law.' Crime and Criminology an introduction by R.D White and Fiona Haines pg 33 11 http://www.iub.edu/~socpages/FUNCTIONALISM.htm 12 http://www.iub.edu/~socpages/FUNCTIONALISM.htm 13 http://www.iub.edu/~socpages/FUNCTIONALISM.htm 14 http://www.iub.edu/~socpages/FUNCTIONALISM.htm 15 Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism by Wayne Morrison pg.73 16 Thinking Seriously about Crime: some models of criminology by Jock Young pg 8
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