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How the Classical Theory Pertains to Crime Prevention

The classical school of criminology is a group of thinkers of crime and punishment in the 18th century. Probably the most prominent members, such as Cesare Beccaria, shared the theory that criminal behavior could be understood and controlled. The classical theory insisted that folks are rational beings who pursue their own interests, trying to increase their pleasure and minimize their pain. The following manuscript will cover three key concepts the origins of classical thought, popular forerunner of classical thought, Cesare Beccaria, and how the classical theory pertains to crime prevention. Lastly, the educational material will show that crime is caused by natural forces and the lack of effective punishment allows it to continue. With evidently defined laws, public punishment, and the elimination of judicial discretion crime can be avoided by deterrence.

Crimes and Punishment: How the Classical Theory Pertains to Crime Prevention

Criminology has six theoretical developments in its discipline. This essay can look into the classical school theory. The classical school of criminology has many parts such as the major principles of the classical school, forerunners of classical thought, and policy implications of the classical school. First, I'll define classical theory as well as summarize the origins of classical thought. Next, I am going to explore one of the most popular forerunners of classical thought, Cesare Beccaria. Lastly, I will discuss the way the classical theory concerns crime prevention as well as how deterrence plays apart.

Literature Review

To properly compose a manuscript how the classical theory pertains to crime prevention, classical theorist Beccaria's work needed to be examined. Lots of the reforms that occurred in the 18th century can be ascribed to Beccaria (Newman & Marongiu, 1990). Beccaria (1983), discussed that a lot more promptly the punishment follows the crime a lot more useful it will be. Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin (1990), states that the classical and neoclassical thought represents more a philosophy of justice than it can a theory of crime causation.

Cohen and Felson (1979), suggested that lifestyles contribute significantly to both volume and the type of crime found in any society. Thus, Reed and Yeager (1996), examined Gottfredson and Hirshi's theory of crime, with particular respect to its applicability to organizational offending. Moriarty and Williams (1996), discussed the individual choice and a relative disregard for the role of social factors in crime causation, such as poverty, poor home environment, and inadequate socialization. Rational choice theory appears to assume that everyone is equally capable of making a rational decision; however, it depends on the personality of the average person (Tunnell, 1990).

In dealing with punishment and how it deters crime it was necessary to look at studies. Although one might expect study leads to show that the death penalty deters crime; however, it was discovered that the rates of murder committed between states that contain eliminated the death penalty and those that retain it had little variation (Bailey, 1979). Sitze (2009), discusses how capital punishment presents issues for the philosophy of law. Also, Sitze expands on Beccaria considered the way the death penalty is "bad economy of power. "


Classical Theory

The classical theory dominated crime theory during the late 1700s and the 1800s. The essential ideas of classical theory include folks are rational beings who pursue their own interest, trying to increase their pleasure and minimize their pain. Unless they are deterred by the threat of swift, certain, and appropriately severe punishments, they could commit crimes in their pursuit of self-interest (Martinetal, 1990).

Classical theory argues that crime is caused by natural forces or forces of the world, such as the absence of effective punishments. Classical theory originated in a reaction to the harsh, corrupt, and frequently arbitrary nature of the legal system in the 1700s (Vold et al. , 2002). Classical theorists were mainly enthusiastic about critiquing this technique and offering proposals because of its reform, but embedded in their arguments is a theory of criminal behavior.

The circumstances of a lot of people, then, may lead them to evaluate the potential pains of punishment and pleasures of crime differently than other individuals. The indegent, for example, may be less deterred by the pains of punishment and much more attracted by the pleasures of crime (Beccaria, 1983).

Classical theory assumes that individuals are rational and engage in crime to reduce their pain and maximize their pleasure. Some criminologists, however, argue that lots of offenders aren't rational and this crime is not in their self-interest. Rather, they engage in crime because of forces beyond their control plus they often suffer greatly for their behavior (Vold et al. , 2002).

Classical theorists state that whether people take part in crime is basically dependent on the swiftness, certainty, and appropriateness of the punishments they face.

Cesare Beccaria

Cesare Beccaria was an 18th century Italian nobleman and economist. Beccaria was considered to most the "father" of Criminology. Because of Beccaria's work he was the main figure head of what's known as the Classical Theory. The 18th century was times in history were severe and frequently extreme punishment was enforced for crimes committed. During such a period in history Beccaria offered the idea of utility. Beccaria examined the causes of delinquent and criminal behavior, and by doing so could scientifically know what causes such deviant behavior. Beccaria rejected the theories of the European Enlightenment which characterized the deviant behavior under the theories of naturalism and even demonology. Beccaria wished to pass on the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment, in so doing these new theories passed on rationalism and humanitarianism (Martin et al. , 1990).

Beccaria set out to make punishment for committing crimes rational. He believed that there should be a hierarchy of punishment a scale identifying what punishments is ideal for the behavior and/or intent. The scale of punishment could have set punishments for repeat offenders as well for the much more serious crimes. This might change the way the death penalty was imposed. The scale of punishment, Beccaria was working on, would only impose the death penalty depending on the severity of the crime and not the act or acts of committing or involvement. Beccaria also believed that judges had to broad of discretion which punishment to impose on what act of deviant behavior. Therefore, Beccaria favored specific punishments fitting each crime. He published an historic piece, An Essay on Crimes and Punishment, in 1764, to communicate his observations on the laws and justice system of his time. Within the Essay, Beccaria distilled the idea of the social contract into the idea that "laws are the conditions under which independent and isolated men united to form a society. " (Beccaria, 1983)

Crime Preventions and Deterrence

Deterrence theory most fully reflects the ideas of classical theory. Deterrence theorists argue that individuals are rational and pursue their own interests, attempting to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain. They choose to activate in crime if they believe that it is to their advantage. The best way to prevent crime, therefore, is through punishments that are swift, certain, and appropriately severe. Deterrence theorists, like classical theorists, focus mainly on the impact of official punishments on crime. Deterrence occurs when "someone refrains from committing a crime because she or he fears the certainty, swiftness, and/or severity of formal legal punishment" (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001).

Deterrence theory makes a distinction between two types of deterrence; specific and general. Specific deterrence refers to the theory that punishment reduces the crime of those specific folks who are punished. So, punishing someone for a crime should decrease the odds of further crime by that person. Studies on general deterrence ask whether punishment deters crime among people in the general population. It's been argued that punishment may deter crime among those who are not punished. Therefore, deterrence through punishment is a highly effective way to prevent crime (Paternoster & Piquero, 1995).


Throughout the essay classical theory, Cesare Beccaria, and deterrence has been explored in relation with each other. The manuscript disclosed that individuals are rational beings who pursue their own interests, trying to increase their pleasure and minimize their pain. Classical theorist Cesare Beccaria determined that if the justice system reformed such as using rational penalties for crimes committed then such behavior could be deterred. The deterrence theory proved that individuals do avoid committing crimes due to fear of punishment. Therefore, the deterrence theory most fully reflects the ideas of classical theory.

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