Differences Between Classical and Neoclassical Schools of Criminology

Differences Between Classical and Neoclassical Schools of Criminology

Criminology is the scientific study of crimes in society and its economic effects on human nature. While individuals commit crimes in many ways, an absolute punishment was once a traditional method for sentencing. Whether the offense was trivial or extreme, individuals would receive the same type of punishment. Laws presented the regulations to justified punishment for crimes. However, there was no distinction between human rights, scientific evidence and consequences.

1 Brief History of Criminology

After the Enlightenment period (1685-1815), criminology emerged as a consequence of unjust and cruel punishment. At the time, judgment predicted the outcome of an individual’s sentence. As more people encountered a period of reason, many began to question the criminal system. Philosophers such as Cesare Beccaria pursued a different approach to criminal justice.

Beccaria believed in the theory that the punishment must fit the crime. While many disagreed with him, other thinkers of the Enlightenment era supported his beliefs. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau explained that human nature entails good behavior. Thomas Paine further ascertained that without democracy, natural human law is violated because humans have natural rights. A pursuit for better criminal systems established the classical school of criminology.

2 Classical School of Criminology

Much like Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham supported the belief in improving the criminal justice system. As founders of the classical school of criminology, Beccaria and Bentham established the idea of crime prevention measures and due process before punishment as justified means. The conventional belief of criminology indicated criminals induce crime for the sake of pleasure and pain. Hence, they have a human disposition to commit a crime. Classical thinkers support means of prevention to deter future crimes and reject capital punishment and the death penalty as punishment. The purpose of classical philosophy is to create a standard belief for the benefit of society. As a result, classical criminology believes criminals exhibit impulsive behavior that leads to peril in society.

3 Neoclassical School of Criminology

Positivism refers to the neoclassical school of criminology, which came after the classical school. Neoclassical criminology focused on individual rights, due process, alternative sentencing and legal rights. Derived from the late 1800s, the neoclassical thinkers focused on the nature of the crime more than the individual. Later, neoclassical believers relied on scientific proof, the motivation of crime and consequences. Furthermore, individuals have no free will when they commit crimes. So, neoclassical theory suggests crimes need due process of the law. Many of the rights in modern times derive from neoclassical thinking. For instance, liberty, search and seizure, imprisonment, trials, sentencing, self-incrimination and interpreters are part of the criminal system today.

4 Limitations of Classical and Neoclassical Criminology

While classical criminology depicts deterrent measures as a way to prevent crimes, neoclassical criminology studies the scientific evidence to determine a just punishment for crimes. Both schools of thought don't recognize the socioeconomic impact of crimes. Humans make a decision based on rationale, but the reason is more complicated when an individual commits a crime. Modern criminology describes the crime as an individual making impulsive decisions without considering consequences.

Studies suggest socioeconomic status and lack of job opportunities increase crimes in society. Individuals with low economic status and fewer education opportunities and career options are prone to commit more crimes. Either school of criminology limits the impact of socioeconomic factors in society and crime prevention.

Barbara earned a B. S. in Biochemistry and Chemistry from the Univ. of Houston and the Univ. of Central Florida, respectively. Besides working as a chemist for the pharmaceutical and water industry, she pursued her degree in secondary science teaching. Barbara now writes and researches educational content for blogs and higher-ed sites.