Objective 2.5: Describe the concept of deterrence and how it might be measured today.

Objective 2.5: Describe the concept of deterrence and how it might be measured today.
Objective 2.5: Describe the concept of deterrence and how it might be measured today.


The particular conceptions of crime and criminal justice that emerged in the eighteenth century are col- lectively known as the Classical School of criminology. The name derives from common references to that entire period of time as the “classical period.” The term “criminology” is a misnomer since there was no criminology as we now know it until the late nineteenth century. Nonetheless, the term is com- monly used because the period gave rise to some of the basic ideas for the operation of a criminal justice system and the processing of criminals. It also provided the first broadly understood theory of criminal behavior. Criminology is the study of crime and criminals, with some study of lawmaking included. The Classical School was not interested in studying criminals per se, so it gained its association with crimi- nology through its focus on lawmaking and legal processing.

Two writers of this period, Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794) and Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), wrote the best-known works and they are considered to have had the most influence. In their writings, they opposed the arbitrary and capricious nature of the criminal justice systems of the time. They pro- posed that both the law and the administration of justice should be based on rationality and human rights, neither of which was then commonly applied.

Among the major ideas that descend from this school are the concepts of humans as free-willed, ratio- nal beings; utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number); civil rights and due process of law; rules of evidence and testimony; determinate sentencing; and deterrence. C. Ray Jeffery (1956, 1972), speaking of classical criminology, emphasizes the school’s focus on a legal definition of crime rather than on a concern with criminal behavior. In addition, both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitu- tion reflect the concerns of the classical movement. Because of this, most of our law is classical in nature.

the herItage of the School

the Social heritage

The eighteenth century was a period of major change in Europe. The reign of the Catholic Church and aristocratic feudal structure, dating from the Middle Ages and before, was about over. The new social order was criticizing the old aristocracy, both for its claim to natural superiority and for its

14 Chapter 2 • The Classical School

corrupt political practices. A new and soon-to-be powerful middle class was rising from the profits of mercantilism and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Societies were becoming urbanized. Traditional conceptions of property and ownership were also being dis- rupted. For example, enclosure movements, the practice of claiming sole use of and fencing off previously open lands, deprived the common people of what had been their traditional rights to use the land and its resources (such as game and firewood). These changes placed stress on the poor and created a resentment that affected the agricultural and rural power base of the aristocracy.

At the same time, an emphasis on commonalities among people served to minimize national differences. With this, the rule of the Church and the aristocracy was seriously threat- ened. The rise of the Protestant ethic allowed people to expect success for hard work in this world and not in some Church-promised afterlife. Before this time, the common person sim- ply had to accept his or her lot in life. The Protestant ethic promised that hard work would result in an improvement in one’s life and led people to expect a direct connection between hard work and success.

Certain powerful families attempted to gain the support of the middle class in a relatively successful battle with the feudal aristocracy to establish dominance over the thrones of Europe. These ruling families were known as monarchies. For instance, German nobility ruled in Eng- land, Poland, Russia, and Sweden. All of this led to the emergence of a new and highly volatile political system. The aristocracy found itself besieged by both the monarchies and the emerging middle class, and its hold on the reins of power began to loosen.

The classical period was, in many areas of life, an era of great thought and expression. In close proximity to the time when people were reading Beccaria’s great treatise, On Crimes and Punishments (1764), J. S. Bach had composed and performed; the young colonies were about to erupt into the American Revolution; and the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights were written.

Writers of the classical period examined not only human nature but social conditions as well. In the late 1700s, John Howard wrote The State of the Prisons of England and Wales, Immanuel Kant produced his great essay Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, and Ben- tham introduced his An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Revolutions took place in both the American colonies and France.

The judicial system was also marked by changes. Founded on the religious structures of the Middle Ages, pre-classical law was mainly the product of judicial interpretation and caprice (Mae- stro, 1942). The accused often faced secret accusations, torture, and private trials; arbitrary and overly harsh sanctions were often applied to the convicted (Barnes, 1930). Generally, there were few written laws, and existing law was applied primarily to those who were not of the aristocracy. In fact, law was often used as a political tool to suppress those who spoke out against the aristocracy or the Church. Indeed, the Spanish Inquisition of the late fifteenth century and the Italian Roman Inquisition of the early sixteenth century testified to the vigorous use of law in the defense of Church and state.

the Intellectual heritage

The prevailing ideas of the eighteenth century were those of reform. A group of philosophers called the Naturalists believed experience and observation could determine much about the world, especially when fortified by the human ability to reason. They rebelled against the

Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794)

Cesare Bonesana, Marchese di Beccaria (known simply as Cesare Beccaria), was born in Milan, Italy, in 1738 to an aristo- cratic family with little remaining political power. He was schooled by Jesuits, receiving a degree in law from the Univer- sity of Pavia in 1758. Shortly thereafter, he joined a society of intellectuals formed by his friends Alessandro and Pietro Verri, who were advocates of social reform. After studying with and listening to the discussions of the group, Beccaria began to

read the works of French Enlightenment scholars. It was this literature that ultimately served as the foundation for his On Crimes and Punishments in 1764. After publication of his famous treatise, the Austrian government gave him a faculty position at the Palatine School in Milan. He spent two years in that role and subsequently occupied a series of patronage- based public offices, never writing another work for public con- sumption. He died in 1794.

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