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Research Paper on Crime

This is an example research paper on Theories of Crime:
The theories on crime deterrence and punishment have changed throughout history. Beccaria, Lombroso and Durkheim are three theorists who have changed the way deterrence, punishment and crime generally is viewed within society. This research paper will first explore each of the theorists’ ideas separately. It will then examine the similarities and differences between each theory.

Cesare Beccaria, born in 1738, focused on deterrence as the means of crime prevention. Beccaria fits into the Classical School of thinking, and wrote in a time when torture was used regularly to obtain information from people, and where capital punishment could be used for any type of offence. Punishment was based on a retributive means, where the punishment, or harm, given was equal to the harm caused by the perpetrator. In 1764, Beccaria published a book called “On crimes and Punishments”, where he theorised that this approach did not discourage determined criminals from committing crimes. He suggested, however, by taking away their liberty through incarceration that this would deter other would-be criminals not to commit similar crimes, and would also prevent the perpetrator to recommit the crime again. He based this theory on the utilitarian ideals: “the greatest happiness shared by the greatest number” (Beccaria 1764/1994, p. 227).

In his book, Beccaria theorised the deterrence to a crime would increase in effectiveness the faster the punishment was delivered. He also argued that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed, as, following the utilitarian ideals, this would be in the interest to the greater good. Beccaria also examined the fact that at the time punishment for the same crime could range from nothing to the death penalty, as it was to the complete discretion of the magistrate to what punishment was appropriate. Beccaria argued that the same crime should attract similar penalties, as this, according to his theory, would act as a greater deterrence.

Beccaria believed that the death penalty did not work as a deterrence to crime. He theorised that killing a person was retributive and had shown in the past that this did not stop the determined criminal committing an offence. He believed, on the other hand, that taking away a person’s liberty through incarceration was a greater deterrence, as the duration of the punishment is a far stronger deterrent than “the more powerful but momentary action” (Beccaria 1764/1994 p. 281) of capital punishment.

Unlike Beccaria, Cesare Lombroso looked at the physical and psychological aspects of the makeup of a “criminal”. Born in 1835, Lombroso was a doctor who theorised that some “criminals” were biologically determined. From the Positivist School of thinking, his research emphasised the need to study the individual using measurements from economic, social and anthropological data. Lombroso performed many autopsies on male criminals throughout his research, where he found many features that were comparable with primitive humans (Vold, Bernard and Snipes 1998). He also performed research on living people, both criminals and non-criminals. His findings of both the autopsies and the study involving live specimens were published in 1876 in the book “Criminal Man”.

In his finding, Lombroso develops and explores his theory on criminal behaviour, where he claimed that certain physical aspects, such as anomalies in the size of the head, eye defects, pouches in the cheek, defects in the thorax and imbalance of the hemispheres of the brain could assist in ascertaining whether a person is a “criminal” (Lombroso 1911). He called these factors, as well as others not mentioned above, “atavism”. He also theorised that a “criminal” is a throwback to primitive times, as shows “the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals” (Lombroso 1911, p. xxv).

In his book “The Female Offender”, published in 1909, Lombroso theorises that most females are not criminal. He found that the women that are criminals, most are only occasional criminals that commit through means other than biological. However, according to Lombroso, there are some females offenders that are atavistic criminals. The female atavistic offender is often harder to detect and is often more vicious than her male counterpart.

While Lombroso looks at crime at the individual level, Emile Durkheim examines crime from the social perspective. Born two decades after Lombroso in 1858, Durkheim theorised that crime is normal (1893). He elaborates on his theory in “The Normal and the Pathological” (1893), where he theorises that a society without crime is impossible. Developing on this idea, Durkheim theorises that for crime to not exist, every person would have to have the same sentiments on everything, to the same degree and intensity. If this were to happen, “crime would not thereby disappear; it would merely change its form” (Durkheim 1893/1994, p. 85).

Durkheim also theorised that crime was useful, in that it help develops change in social morality and reforms in law. He develops this idea and wrote “in order that these transformations may be possible, the collective sentiments at the basis of morality must not be hostile to change, and consequently must have but moderate energy” (Durkheim 1893/1994, p. 87). Furthermore, he theorises that without crime, society would become stagnant and would not progress.

In 1897 Durkheim published “Suicide”, where he studied suicide rates. He found that the rate increased greatly when there were times of economic decline or growth. He called this “state of inadequate regulation “anomie”” (Vold et al 1998, p. 130). This is not associated with crime “unless there is also a breakdown of social norms or rules” (Vold et al 1998, p. 123).

Durkheim and Beccaria both looked at the crime from the societal level, but theorised in different areas. Beccaria took the Classical approach and was more interested in using deterrence in preventing crime. Durkheim, on the other hand, took the Positivist position and focused more on society’s behaviour and interaction, and said that crime was normal and was needed for society to move forward. Beccaria looked at crime as a menace to society and theorised that it was not beneficial. Beccaria focused more on reform and how society could use deterrence as a means to stop crime, while Durkheim theorised that crime would always exist, and would only stop if everyone agreed and believed the same things. Durkheim also theorised that if one definition of crime were to be eliminated, it would only be redefined and shifted towards other behaviours.

Similar to Durkheim, Lombroso fits into the Positivist school of theory. Where they differ is the level of analysis the theorists used. Durkheim, as established previously, looked at crime from the societal level. Lombroso, however, looked at crime on the individual level. Where Durkheim looked at crime as a normal occurrence in society, Lombroso looked at crime as, at least in part, having a biological foundation. Lombroso looked at the causes of crime from a physical and psychological perspective, and theorised that the characteristic of some “criminals” could be attributed to physical abnormalities of a person. Durkheim believed that crime was a result of differences in beliefs and values in society, and thus would always exist.

Lombroso and Beccaria looked at crime from different perspectives. Lombroso focused on the individual, whereas Beccaria looked at crime through society as a whole. Both theorists also belong to different schools of thinking; Beccaria belongs to the Classical school whereas Lombroso is a member of the Positivist school. Beccaria, through his studies, focused on deterrence and the need to reform the “criminal”. Lombroso, though, looked at the physical and psychological attributes that made up a “criminal, and believed that these characteristics were inherited through generations. He also theorised that a person with a predisposition of crime through their physical abnormalities could not be reformed, as Beccaria suggested.

Each theorist examined in this essay have focused on crime differently; Beccaria looked at using deterrence as a means to reduce crime, Lombroso looked at the biological makeup of a person, with certain abnormalities possibly making up a “criminal”, and Durkheim looked as crime being a normal occurrence within society. All the theorists looked at in this essay have influenced the way society looks at crime, and have provided a basis for other theorists to expand and explore the causes of crime that exist today.

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May 26, 2010