Law History:
Criminology and It’s Beginnings

     The concern about crime and the need to develop effective measures to control criminal behavior are the reasons behind the development of criminology. Even though criminology itself is a relatively recent development, this discipline is devoted to developing valid and reliable information that address the causes of crime as well as crime patterns and trends. Not like detectives or investigators, whose opinions about crime can be colored by personal experiences, biases, and values, criminologist remain objective as they study crime and its consequences. Written criminal codes have been around for thousands of years however, these codes were restricted to defining and setting punishment and did not venture into why crimes were committed. It soon became evident that finding reasons for what motivated people into committing these crimes.

     It's hard to believe in today's times, that people back in the Middle Ages were a very superstitious lot. Thru the 1200-1600s, satanic possession dominated the way people thought. How else could the actions of some people be explained? People who violated the natural order of things were accused of being witches and the punishment for witchcraft was to be burned at the stake. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people were accused of being a witch and prosecuted for such a crime. If they had families, they were destroyed also because if you were a witch then your children were witches too. Punishment was also dealt to those who committed violent crimes and thievery by cruelly being whipped, branded, or maimed, in the public square.

     By the eighteenth century, society's philosophers were starting to re-think their concepts or law and punishment. They reasoned that the relationship between crimes and their punishment should be balanced and fair. Utilitarianism was thought of as the prevailing philosophy of the time and this meant that behavior must be useful, purposeful, and reasonable. It was becoming apparent the cruel public executions that were meant to frighten people, did not keep them from committing crimes. It was time for a more moderate and just approach to penal sanctions. The most famous of these reformers was a man named Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), whose writings described both a motive for committing crime and methods for its control. He believed that "people want to achieve pleasure and avoid pain."  Beccaria concluded that people who committed crimes got some kind of pleasure out of it, so in order really to deter crime; the sort of punishment received by the criminal must be given pain that is appropriate to compensate the pleasure one has when committing a crime. In other words, the punishment should fit the crime.

     The writings of Beccaria formed the core of what we still refer to today as classical criminology. Although, conceived in the eighteenth century, classical criminology theory had many basic elements such as:

  1. In every society, people have free will to choose criminal or lawful solutions to meet their needs or settle their problems.
  2. Criminal solutions may be more attractive than lawful ones because they usually require less work for a greater payoff.
  3. A person's choice of criminal solutions may be controlled by his or her fear of punishment.
  4. The more severe, certain, and swift the punishment, the better able it is to control criminal behavior.

     It is because of philosophers like Caesar Beccaria, and others, that we have the type of legal system that we do. Prisons started using the classical perspective as forms of punishment, and sentences were geared to better suit the crime. He opened a door for others who studied human behavior and as early as 1741, a man named J.K. Lavater started the scientific study on human biology. He studied the facial features of criminals to see if there was a connection between the shape of their ears, eyes, and nose, and the distance between them, could be connected to anti-social behavior. Studies like Lavaters are still going on today, and someday maybe we will be able to spot criminal tendencies and change their behavior into something better, till one day crime may be obsolete.

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