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Classical theory in Criminology

Classical theory in criminology has its roots in the theories of the 18th century Italian nobleman and economist, Cesare Beccaria and the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (Hollin, 2004, 2). This was a time in history when punishment for crime was severe in the extreme, and both men proffered the theory of utility. New theorists like Beccaria and Bentham looked at the causes of criminal and delinquent behavior, and began to scientifically explain such deviance (Juvenile, 2005, 71). They rejected theories of naturalism and demonology which characterized the European Enlightenment as explanations for these types of behavior. The new theories reflected the rationalism and humanitarianism of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment

Beccaria did not develop a completely new theory of criminology, but rather sought a way to make the punishment for committing a crime more rational (Classic, 2001). He believed that there should be a hierarchy of punishments for more and more serious crimes and the number of times a criminal had been charged previously, The circumstances under which the death penalty was imposed would depend entirely on the severity of the crime and not the actual act committed or the degree of involvement in the act. He was against judges having the broad discretion they possessed and favored definite punishments fitting each crime. He published an historic piece, An Essay on Crimes and Punishment, in 1764, discussing why crime occurs and what society


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Classical theory in Criminology. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:59, March 30, 2015, from