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Evaluation of Classical and Radical Criminology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2847 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The criminal justice system is a group of departments, agencies and institutions that are in the business of administering justice to offenders who have committed crime. The overarching goal of the criminal justice system is to detect, identify and punish those who have been found in contradiction with the current laws. Other objectives of the criminal justice system include the rehabilitation of these offenders, the compensation or repatriation of those victims who have been afflicted by the offenders and the prevention of further crime within society. Some of the more prominent bodies within the criminal justice system include the court system, the prison system and the various police departments.

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The court system is charged with the roles of administering justice for the prosecuted law offenders. Here, the prosecuting lawyers and defense lawyers argue out their cases in the presence of an appointed judge. The whole court process is however governed by the respective laws of the land. The prison system, on the other hand is where convicted criminals and offenders are taken for the process of rehabilitation per the law[1]. Within the criminal justice system, the prisons play the role of correctional facility and premises where the convicted criminals are detained after the conclusion of trial. The police departments in the criminal justice system have been charged with the role of enforcing the law. This role encompasses the whole process of investigating and arresting for crimes together with the universal duties of maintaining law and order.

Beccaria and Lombroso

Towards, the middle of the 18th century, philosophers started thinking about more rational ways to counter crime in society, other than the existent methods that involved scaring people into observing the law. Some of the most prominent figures who contributed to this development include Cesare Beccaria, an Italian criminologist who was also a firm believer in the famed utilitarian theory. This theory suggests that human behavior is incentivized by two main actors; the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure. Going by this argument, therefore, Beccaria argues that a particular crime will persist the moment the potential pleasure obtained from committing that crime outweighs the threat of punishment.

Beccaria therefore argues that for the punishment to a crime to be effective, it requires to be proportional to the crime, prompt, necessary, publicly administered, and given under the guidelines of the law. Punishment that is assured to be swift and governed by the law is more likely to deter crime more than punishment that does not threaten the pleasure that would be obtained from committing a certain crime. Lombroso, on the other hand, argues that the commitment of crime in a society is a function of biology. Criminals are biologically wired to commit crime, regardless of the economic or utilitarian motivations behind their crimes, as explained by classical criminology. Lombroso believes that criminals are born with the traits that push them into committing crime; they do not commit crime out of free will.

Beccaria’s view on criminology may be applied in modern society by using effective methods of law enforcement implemented by the various police departments. Technology today has allowed for the law enforcement agencies to achieve a wider reach within society through which they have been able to maintain law and order. One of this ways is through the use of surveillance CCTV cameras and technology. Through these methods, visible signs of degenerate behavior and crime in urban areas have reduced. This may be explained using Beccaria’s theory where the threat of punishment for offences like burglary, mugging and littering far outweigh the perceived benefits of participating in crimes like this.

An offence like burglary, for instance, would likely earn the offender years of imprisonment together with a fine, or both. This is in consideration of the fact that ubiquitous CCTV surveillance cameras that exist in almost every building are likely going to make the job quite easy for law enforcement, since they would have most of the evidence that they require to present a solid case before the court system. With these evidence in place, it is likely that the burglar in question would more than likely get convicted and imprisoned. Compared to the potential benefit of obtaining a few household items and cash, the risk of punishment far outweighs the potential benefit, therefore deterring majority of potential burglary offenders.

Using Beccaria’s theory of criminology, other crimes that may be deterred using the same CCTV methods include causing public disorder, drunkenness, vandalism and jay-walking. The threat of punishment from such offences is simply way too great, compared to the benefit obtained from committing them. This is not taking into consideration the amount of time used in the criminal justice system trying to absolve oneself from the crimes. Beccaria’s theory of criminology also has additional advantages in the sense that the regulation of such minor offences has been known to contribute to an overall drop in the rates of serious crimes such as rape, drug abuse and homicides[2].

Alternative solutions to burglary

Other measures that could be taken to counter the crime of burglary could involve the use of a private security solution. Although this is a civilian solution, it has the capacity to deter the intentions of any burglar in the community. Security systems may be in the form of a security guard or home keeper or in the form of an installed alarm system. It raises an alarm in the event that anyone without the required permissions attempts to break into the household in question. A security guard will stop any burglars trying to access the office or premise without authorization. Security companies could also be contracted to maintain the overall security of a particular company or household.

Through the lens of radical criminology

Radical criminology posits that society in general exists to serve the interests of the ruling class. This theory also asserts the fact that a divide exists in society between the ruling class in society and the social masses. Therefore, the potential for conflict will always exist in society. This conflict will however not explode according to the radical view of criminology, in part because the ruling class has applied mechanisms to ensure that it does not. A radical criminologist would view the installation of CCTV cameras as a crime prevention measure as a ploy for the ruling class to monitor the masses. They would imagine that the ruling class only uses the excuse of security in order to carry out surveillance on the masses in order to keep the controlled and in check.

Similarly, the radical criminologist would suggest that the installation of home security systems in various neighborhoods around the country is another way for the ruling elite to keep an eye on the masses. They would imagine that crimes are used by the ruling class in order to introduce measures to fight them that ultimately serve their own hidden interests. As a result of these measures, radical criminologists maintain that the ruling class has used them to keep an eye on the masses and maintain a grip on them, so that they do not upset the already established social order of inequality.


In conclusion, the use of CCTV cameras for the regulation of crime, no matter how minor the method seems, is an effective deterrent against crimes in urban and residential settings. By extension, the method also contributes to the drop of more serious criminal offences such as rape and murder in the long term. When the rate of minor crimes in an area has dropped, it is likely that the rate of more serious crimes would also drop because the signaling that would have been passed is that the surrounding community does not condone crimes of any sort[3].

Classical Criminology

The classical theory of criminology states that a person will make rational choices between opportunities that will maximize their own utility. Although these theories were formulated in the 18th century, they adequately explain and represent event still happening in current times today[4]. Classical criminology chooses to view crime through the lens of economic models, through the commonly named the rational choice theory. The field of classical criminology emerged as a result of the works of such philosophers as Beccaria and Bentham. Classical criminology is the reason why it is widely believed that criminals will make decisions on crime, having mainly been motivated by the illusions of economic benefit that would result from the commitment of those crimes.

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A distinction needs to be made within the classical theory of criminology especially when it comes to a group setting. Some actions that may seem to be of utilitarian benefit to some people may not appear the same way to other people. Therefore, criminal activities that bear a certain appeal to some people may not bear the same appeal to some other people within the society. The classical theory of criminology has also informed the reasoning behind a good number of punishments administered for societal crimes. Many punishments in the 18th century, even today, are seen to be excessive for the main reason that they would deter potential crime, chiefly owing to their irrational nature. The moment the punishment for a crime outweighs its potential utilitarian benefits, then the offender in classical criminology becomes immediately dis-incentivized.

Beccaria, a proponent of the classical theory of criminology argues that the more probable the chances that a crime would be detected and swiftly punished, then the more effective the punishment would be. Although this viewpoint would face serious human rights and morality challenges today, it worked fairly well at a time when society was going through economic, social and spiritual changes. The world was moving from a feudalist society to a more classical society and the arts were going through a renaissance period where ingrained traditional styles were questioned every other day. Attitudes towards religion were also changing, as the major dictates of main religious movements were also getting challenged.

As a result, the legal field was also infiltrated by a cohort of liberal philosophers who argued that punishments as they were then were too brutal, punitive and personalized. These new-age enlightened philosophers argued that punishments to be administered should be rational, effective, humane, and no-discriminatory, as opposed to being chiefly guided by tradition or religion. Lastly, they argues that criminal punishment must be carried out within the auspices of a universally acknowledged legal framework. These are the general principles which later informed the formulation of the classical theory of criminology.

The merits of the classical theory of criminology include the fact that it paved way for a much more widely accepted justice system as opposed to the previously applied one, which heavily depended on the decisions of a few individuals within the ruling class. The classical theory of criminology paid heed to the fact that human beings are endowed with a free will that advises what actions they would take, depending on the advantages or disadvantages of the said action. The classical theory therefore led to punishments meted out by the justice system to be more proportionate and therefore more effective. More people adhered to the law out of their own free will.

Under the classical theory of criminology, every individual within society became equal under the law. It did not matter which class in society one belonged to; the law would treat every person as equal. This classical movement of criminology also predicated upon society the responsibility to improve itself without depending on external duress from authority to improve itself. This way, society place a greater amount of responsibly on itself for the role of improving upon itself. As long as the three elements of punishment that Beccaria though were important were upheld, society was bound, in his opinion to remain relatively free of willful crime. The three vital elements of punishment to him were; swiftness and promptness of the punishment, proportionate severity of the punishment and certainty that the punishment would be administered in the event of a crime committed.

Some of the negatives that come with the classical theory of criminology include the fact crimes within society are often as a direct result of the inequalities that exist within society. Classes exist within society here some individuals have more access to resources than others. This therefore brings to great question the assertion that every individual is equal before the law. Classical criminology does not take into account the fact that certain individuals within society have the means to exploit the legal justice system for personal gain. In addition, although the same punishment may be meted out on different offenders for the same crimes, classical criminology fails to acknowledge the fact that the same punishment may affect different individuals differently. The same punishment may be effective on certain individuals, yet quite ineffective on some.

Beccaria asserted that criminal offender should not only be tried by judges, but also by his peers and the general public. This assertion led to the adoption of the jury system in current law, by the American criminal justice system. The justice system was also made transparent and visible to the general public, owing to contributions made by Beccaria in the course of his studies of the law. Important steps within the criminal justice system should be made public, according to Beccaria. This classical criminology tenet serves as both a deterrent of crimes as well as a tool to educate the public concerning what passes as a crime in the criminal justice system and what the commensurate punishment for each crime would be.


Although classical criminology may have been overrun by time, elements of the theory have managed to make it to current legal systems and mechanisms of criminal justice. This goes to demonstrate how foundational the theory was to the current practice of law, especially considering that lawyers and systems today keep going back and forth to refer from the fathers of classical criminology, Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham.


  • Downes, D., Rock, P. E., & McLaughlin, E. (2016). Understanding deviance: a guide to the sociology of crime and rule-breaking. Oxford University Press.
  • Innes, M. (2014). Signal crimes: Social reactions to crime, disorder and control. Oxford University Press.
  • Keizer, K., Lindenberg, S., & Steg, L. (2008). The spreading of disorder. Science322(5908), 1681-1685.
  • Nagin, D. S., Cullen, F. T., & Jonson, C. L. (2018). Classical Theory: The Emergence of Deterrence Theory in the Age of Enlightenment. In Deterrence, Choice, and Crime, Volume 23(pp. 13-38). Routledge.
  • Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2018). America’s courts and the criminal justice system. Cengage Learning.
  • Newman, O. (1972). Defensible space (p. 264). New York: Macmillan.

[1] Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2018). America’s courts and the criminal justice system. Cengage Learning.

[2] Innes, M. (2014). Signal crimes: Social reactions to crime, disorder and control. Oxford University Press.

[3] Newman, O. (1972). Defensible space (p. 264). New York: Macmillan.

[4] Nagin, D. S., Cullen, F. T., & Jonson, C. L. (2018). Classical Theory: The Emergence of Deterrence Theory in the Age of Enlightenment. In Deterrence, Choice, and Crime, Volume 23(pp. 13-38). Routledge.


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