The History of Criminology

Criminology is the scientific procedure to studying both social and individual criminal actions. It is divided up into several separate disciplines including psychology, economics, political science, natural science, biology and the evolution and development of people. While other investigative professionals are in charge of who committed a crime and how, criminologists are responsible for answering why someone would be led to breaking the law or causing a crime. The field of study has a long, rich history and has changed a lot.

Criminology truly began in Europe between the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s. Classical school of criminology founders were theorists on crime and punishment development. These people include writers Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. Although torture was taking place all over the continent, especially for confessions and testimonies, classical school believed torture to be wrong. According to the classic school of thought, crimes are committed through free will. People know what they are doing and should be punished. Those consequences should be strong enough to deter other people from the crime and should be harsher than the criminal gain. They did explain that the criminal justice system drastically needed to be modernized and improved. At that time, criminal justice included painful torture such as stretching, crushing and stabbing of the accused bodies. The classical school aimed to improve the system partly by limiting or eliminating the torture. It marked the beginning of great progress for the criminal justice system.

The Neo-classical school of thought followed the classic school and brought with it a few revisions. For one, this way of thinking suggests that people can be led by behavior, which can be irrational. It also suggests the world is imperfect and therefore there will always be mistakes. Self-defense is included in the neo-classical school of thought too. Famous neo-classical criminologists include Raymond Saleilles, author of The Individualization of Punishment and his teacher Gabriel Tarde.

Determinism is the belief that all actions are pre-established in time and that free will is only an illusion. It, along with the requirement of scientific evidence for criminal conviction, falls under the positivist school of thought. Positivists believe that all people are different, both intellectually and physically. Punishment within the positivist school of thought would not be determined by crime, rather by person. Also, correction, treatment and rehabilitation are theoretically possible within all criminals and those that cannot be fixed should be killed. Lombroso is credited with being the father of criminology and a positivist.

In the 1920s, Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess presented their Chicago school of thought through the University of Chicago. The study related criminology to sociology and provided research on concentric zones, or zones in transition where people tend to be more criminally active than others. Through the addition of Henry McKay and Clifford Shaw’s research specifically on juvenile delinquents, a new social ecology study was developed. The Chicago school of thought determined that crimes tend to be taught by older criminals whom people may be associated with either personally or professionally.

Contemporary criminology includes a similar hedonistic theory that people can deter emotions and actions according to incentive manipulation. Thus, criminology today includes categorizing criminal’s motives whether they are instrumental or expressive. Instrumental motivation means the person has more incentive, outside the act itself, for committing a crime. There is a tangible benefit. For example, contract killers have the added incentive of money. Gang members may commit crimes for the initiation incentive. When there are obvious signs of instrumental motivation, there are generally harsher punishments for crimes as there is proof behind premeditation. Expressive motivation is different than instrumental as it includes acts done out of emotion. The crime itself is the desired result. Common feelings for expressive motivation crimes include anger or rage, fear, jealousy and passion. They are frequently committed in the heat of the moment as a means of overpowering the source of the criminal’s frustration. In these instances, fifty-seven percent of the crimes occur to acquaintances which include friends and relationships outside of marriage. Also, fifty three percent of the homicides are blamed on arguments.

Criminology combines social action data with criminal activity to understand motive and determine appropriate consequences. As such, criminology is necessary for the proper development and execution of criminal justice systems. From the case development to long after the verdict, criminologists are responsible for understanding why criminals do what they do. Through this information people will be safer, better understood and justly punished for crimes. The ultimate motive behind criminology though, is the prevention of crime.