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Classical and Neo-Classical Criminology. Kelly Cheeseman Dial AJ 325. The Backdrop of Classical Criminology. The prior church regime/demonology Challenge of the aristocracy and reign of church Began to examine human nature and social conditions

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Classical and neo classical criminology l.jpg

Classical and Neo-Classical Criminology

Kelly Cheeseman Dial

AJ 325

The backdrop of classical criminology l.jpg
The Backdrop of Classical Criminology

  • The prior church regime/demonology

  • Challenge of the aristocracy and reign of church

  • Began to examine human nature and social conditions

  • Rise of the cities and fall of the agricultural era

  • Classical criminology was created from writings about law and society less than from thinking about criminal behavior

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Enlightenment Thinking

  • Hedonism

  • Social contract

  • Secularization of Society

  • Human Dignity

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FoundersCesare Beccaria 1738-1794

  • Wrote: On Crimes and Punishments ( 1764)

  • Beccaria believed people want to achieve pleasure and avoid pain

  • Crime and its outcomes provide some pleasure

  • Thus to deter crime pain on some level must be administered

  • What types of pain? Who administers it?

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FoundersJeremy Bentham 1748-1833

  • British philosopher who helped popularize Beccaria’s views.

  • Believed that punishments are in themselves harmful, so what they try to prevent must be more evil than the punishment.

  • Father of utilitarianism

  • Creator of deterrence theory

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Classical Criminology

  • Decisions to violate the law are weighed against the possible punishment for such a violation

  • To deter crime, the pain of punishment must outweigh the benefit of illegal gain.

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Assumptions of Human Nature

  • Individuals have free will: Freedom to make personal behavioral choices unencumbered by environmental factors such as poverty or ideological beliefs

  • Individuals maximize utility: (i.e., happiness, food, resources) by weighing the benefits and costs of their future actions before deciding on behavior

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When it cannot prevent a crime, to convince the offender to commit a less serious one.

To prevent all

criminal offenses.

To prevent a crime

as cheaply as possible.

To ensure that a criminal

uses no more force than

is necessary.

Four Utilitarian Objectives of Punishment

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Classic Deterrence Theory commit a less serious one.

  • Primary Purpose of punishment is deterrence rather than vengeance

  • Severity: Punishment must be just severe enough to overcome the gain from a crime. Punishment that is too severe is unjust, and punishment that is not severe enough will not deter

  • Without proper proportionality, people will not be deterred from committing more serious crimes ( i.e. if rape and murder were both punished with death, a rapist would have little reason to refrain from killing the victim

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Classic Deterence: Celerity and Certainty commit a less serious one.

  • Celerity: swiftness with which criminal sanctions are applied after the commission of crime ( where does apprehension fit in?)

  • Certainty: probability of apprehension and punishment for a crime.

    • If I am caught will they really punish me? ( mere threats versus carrying out)

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What is proportionality? commit a less serious one.

  • Rape

  • Theft of a cell phone

  • Theft of a car

  • Killing a husband/mistress when you catch them in bed together

  • Assault

  • People who neglect/abuse those in a nursing home

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General Deterrence commit a less serious one.

Depends on fear of penalties

Convincing potential offenders that the potential pain outweighs the potential benefits

Specific Deterrence

Focuses on the individual offender

Convince him/her not to repeat their criminal behavior


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Absolute and Marginal Deterrence commit a less serious one.

  • Absolute Deterrence: A particular punishment can deter a type of crime completely.

  • Marginal Deterrence: A relatively more severe penalty will produce some reduction in crime

  • State vs. informal control

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The Purposes of Punishment commit a less serious one.

  • General Deterrence – By punishing the offender we hope that others considering committing the same crime will not think it worth it

  • Specific Deterrence – same as above, but with respect to that offender themselves, not others

  • Incapacitation – if the offenders is in jail, society is safe

  • Retribution – offenders “deserve” punishment as a payment to society for their crimes

  • Moral Outrage – Catharsis and relief for society

  • Rehabilitation – may provide and opportunity to help/change the offender

  • Restitution – offenders should compensate their victims

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Classical Crim. Today commit a less serious one.

  • Are criminals today influenced by a theory that is rooted in the 17th/18th century?

  • Historically

    • Bill of Rights

    • Thomas Jefferson – desire to end death penalty in US

    • Prisons

    • Punishment fit the crime

  • Neo-classical criminology/Rational Choice/Routine Activities Theory

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Rebirth of Classical thoughts in the 70’s and 80”s commit a less serious one.

  • National surveys fail to find rehabilitation programs “that work” end of rehab in 70’s

  • Thinking About Crime by James Q. Wilson debunks view that crime was a function of external forces

  • Wilson proposes a forceful reaction to crime, otherwise, those sitting on the fence will get the idea that “crime pays”

  • “get tough on crime”

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The Deterrence Hypothesis commit a less serious one.

  • When the certainty, severity, and celerity of criminal sanctions are high in a population, criminal behavior will be low.

  • Should be a significant decrease in violent crime

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Food for thought commit a less serious one.

  • The 5 countries with the highest homicide rates that do not impose the death penalty average 21.6 murders per every 100,000 people.

  • The 5 countries with the highest homicide rate that do impose the death penalty average 41.6 murders every 100,000 people.

  • States with DP have higher murder rates than those without the DP.

  • Does this show that deterrence theory does not work?

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Rational Choice Theory commit a less serious one.Born out of economics

  • Assume individuals desire utility (e.g. happiness, wealth, etc.)

  • Operating within their means ( or constraints) individuals attempt to achieve their desires goals)

  • The ‘rational Choice” is the one that obtains desired goals (e.g., the most utility) for the lowest cost.

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Benefits commit a less serious one.

  • Material or monetary benefits

  • Non-pecuniary benefits ( psychological gains, excitement, revenge, sense of accomplishment, reputation and honor)

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Costs commit a less serious one.

  • Material costs

  • Psychic costs: possible feelings of guilt from committing crime, shame from friends

  • Opportunity costs: time that could be spent doing something else

  • Expected punishment costs ( the main focus of deterrence theorists)

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Criminals tend to commit a less serious one.

overestimate the money they receive

from crime

Criminals believe there

is no choice, legitimate

work is not available.

Criminals are overly

optimistic about getting

away with each

individual crime

Research indicates that crime pays

relatively little. Then why do so many

criminals continue to commit crime?

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Structuring Crime commit a less serious one.

  • Not only do criminal structure their career but they rationally choose

    • The type of crime to commit

    • Where it occurs

    • Who or what will be the target

    • The time the crime will be committed

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Routine Activities Theory commit a less serious one.

  • Crime will occur if the following three factors interact:

  • Motivated Offenders*

  • Suitable targets

  • Lack of capable guardians

    *theory assumes this will always be

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1950 commit a less serious one.

Women stayed at home

Social activities are more home based

What would people steal?


Many women work outside of home

Social activities are more often away from home

What would people steal?

What are our modern day Routine activities vs. 1950?

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How do you stop crime according to RAT? commit a less serious one.

  • Target hardening ( suitability)

  • Surveillance (guardianship)

  • Target removal

  • Reducing temptation

  • Surveillance by employees

  • This is situational crime prevention

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Classical/Neo-classical commit a less serious one.

  • Is this a good or bad theory?

  • Does it influence how we view crime and criminal justice in America

  • Does it answer the 2 basic questions?

  • Is it useful?