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Key Principle of Classical Criminology and Its Influence on the Criminal Justice System

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In this essay, I will explain what the key principle of classical criminology is and what influence it has on our criminal justice system. The main key principle of classicism is the Enlightenment thinkers who identified individuals or criminals to have rationality, hedonism, and punishment acting as a deterrent to crime. Rather than thinking about religion and what happens after death, Enlightenment thinkers sought to improve human circumstances on Earth. The reason, science, religious tolerance, and what they called 'natural rights' were all-important to these intellectuals (‘What Is an Enlightenment Thinker?’, 2022). I’ll be using to main key theorists of classical criminology, Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. The criminal justice system can be defined as “interrelationships among law enforcement, the courts, corrections, and juvenile justice” (Palmiotto, 2021).

Classical criminology is a legal system approach that emerged in the 1700s during the Enlightenment (18th century). Social contract theory was elaborated upon by philosophers such as Cesare Beccaria, John Locke, and Jeremy Bentham to explain why people commit crimes and how communities may effectively combat crime. The classical school of criminology has a significant problem in that the concept that all criminals are rational is neither generalizable to the entire population nor correct, due to the reality that biological conditions may prevent an individual from thinking and acting logically (Carrabine, 2014).

Rationality is a way of analyzing and comprehending. It aids in the identification and categorizing of perceptions, experiences, and concepts into foundation knowledge. The reason is a mental process that demands objectivity and dispassionate evaluation of facts, reasoning, and deduction. In a philosophical sense, the reason is absolute. Some philosophers argue that reason is nothing more than a weapon for winning debates, while others argue that it raises people above their animalistic nature (Rydgren, 2020). Individuals have free will and the ability to make rational decisions, according to Enlightenment thinkers in criminology, so offenders make rational decisions on whether or not to commit crimes based on an analysis of cost, risk vs. benefit. As a result, crime prevention should focus on influencing the decisions that offenders make. This influences the criminal justice system because according to the rational choice viewpoint, the criminal is a rational individual who assesses the possible costs and rewards of committing a crime. Despite criticism, this strategy is prominent as part of the dominant attitude of the criminal justice system in Wales.

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Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), interoperate that hedonism was based on a conception of criminals as following a rational choice principle which would dictate whether they engage in crime or deviance. The phrase ‘hedonism’ comes from the Greek word that means 'pleasure'. The criminal tries to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The criminal justice system employs different forms of hedonism. According to psychological hedonism, criminal behavior is motivated. They are motivated by the pursuit of pleasure. Pursuit of pleasure, according to ethical hedonism, is normative. If the grounds for the criminal's behavior and acts are evident, the legal system can proclaim the appropriate sentence for the lawbreaker. The use of hedonism in criminal activity implies that everyone thinks, analyses, and acts uniquely. When the system learns to recognize the individual, a pattern in thinking might be discovered. It is the responsibility of behavioral scientists to investigate such trends, but the criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies may also utilize this information to monitor and critically examine the conduct of dangerous offenders. Serial murderers are a type of criminal. The psychological rationale that drives such criminals to execute specific acts exists (‘Hedonism in the Criminal Justice System’, 2013).

Beccaria asserted that three aspects of punishment make a major difference in deterrence: the swiftness of punishment, certainty of punishment, and severity of punishment. Certainty of punishment is when people commit a crime, they should believe they have a good chance of being detected and suffer the consequences (Hostettler, 2011, p. 124). Punishment should be carried out as soon as possible after the act, according to the principle of the swiftness of punishment and if the penalty arrives too late, the deterrent impact may be lost because the individual will be unable to connect the punishment to the unlawful conduct. The severity of punishment is when the punishment is severe enough to offset any possible advantages derived through crime. In the eighteenth century, the death penalty was spread all over Europe, it was not only used for serious crimes but also minor offenses such as theft. Jeremy Bentham's long-term critical examination of English law and society created the groundwork for the early nineteenth-century political changes that preserved from violent social revolution. He is most recognized for his utilitarian concepts and for broadening the scope of legal theory beyond legal issues. In addition, he and his brother devised the panopticon, a facility for imprisonment and monitoring (O’Donnell, 2020). Torture was practiced in many countries as well and this embraced the inquisitorial system of criminal procedure (Hostettler, 2011, p. 3). The inquisitorial system is a form of legal practice in which the judge attempts to find facts while also representing the interests of the state in a trial (‘Inquisitorial System’, 2022). Beccaria stated that if harsh sanctions do not prevent crime, they should not be applied. Instead, sanctions should be commensurate to the extent of the harm inflicted by the crime. According to Beccaria, the goal of punishment is not to inflict agony on the criminal, but to deter future offenders from committing crimes. Beccaria felt that to accomplish so, punishment should be definite and fast. He felt that if criminals knew they would be punished and if punishment came as soon as possible after the offence, it would have the greatest chance of deterring crime. Beccaria also fought against the death sentence, which was another contentious subject. In his opinion, the state does not have the authority to respond to violence with greater violence. Since the death sentence is only temporary, it cannot be particularly effective in preventing crime. Instead, long-term sanctions, such as life imprisonment, would be more effective in reducing crime since potential criminals would find this a far more unpleasant state than the death sentence (Margit, 2018).

Human rights are norms that respect and preserve the dignity of all people. They control how individuals live in society and with one another, as well as their relationship with the government. Human rights legislation requires governments to do some things and forbids them from doing others. Individuals have obligations to respect each other’s rights (‘What Are Human Rights?’, 2015). Criminal penalties are a type of societal reaction against criminal offenders, intended not just at preserving society against crime, but also at protecting social and individual objects. Criminal penalties are imposed when criminal law is broken, a criminal court procedure is carried out, the offender, the criminal offence, and the circumstances for imposing sanctions are identified. They always deny or restrict some human rights or freedoms as a necessary and fundamental technique of obtaining justice, when it cannot be done in any other way, such as upholding the rule of law in a given community by individuals, this is because they have been convicted that they should obey the law since it is for the general welfare of everyone, not only for themselves, including that specific individual who believes that such behavior specified by the legal norm should not be respected or broken, However, regardless of the justification for applying such sanctions that seriously infringe on basic human rights and freedoms (justified by the state's mechanism for enforcing justice), they must not cross the line of humanity, necessity, inevitability, and human dignity, particularly personal, moral, and physical integrity (Ashtalkoska-Baloska, 2020).

In conclusion, the key principles of classical criminology all influence the criminal justice system exclusively. As previously stated, the fundamental important premise of classicism is the Enlightenment thinkers who recognized individuals or criminals as having rationality, hedonism, and punishment functioning as a deterrent to crime. Classicism can be used when the criminal justice system examines the illegal act rather than the person who committed the crime. Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham both helped a lot with the changing of the justice system today, as now we do not use such violent actions such as the death penalty or torture.

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Key Principle of Classical Criminology and Its Influence on the Criminal Justice System. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Key Principle of Classical Criminology and Its Influence on the Criminal Justice System.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
Key Principle of Classical Criminology and Its Influence on the Criminal Justice System. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
Key Principle of Classical Criminology and Its Influence on the Criminal Justice System [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2023 Dec 11]. Available from:
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