Schools Of Criminology

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The word ‘criminology’ is derived from the Latin word “CRIMEN” which means accusation and LOGIA means a study of a particular concept or subject. Thus, it can be said that criminology refers to the scientific study of crime and criminal behavior. Moreover, it is also a study of the causes of crimes based on a sociological viewpoint. Criminology is a subject which takes into consideration the harsh reality of crime and the psychology of a criminal linked with the sociological view. Criminology is of two types- Criminal Biology and Criminal Sociology.

Criminal Justice And Criminology

Criminal justice deals with the scope and nature of particular crimes and a series of institutions, agencies are involved to ensure the effective functioning of the justice delivery system. The laws are already in place and legalized focus is much on its fair application and implementation. In short, it consists of the identification of criminals, apprehension, judgment and punishment. Police authorities, courts, and forensic departments are some of the organs of the criminal justice system. Thus, it can be said that criminology is the study of criminal theories, the criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies that existed at that time.

The enforcement agencies are wide and elongated which derives their authority from the subject matter of criminology, which provides the knowledge of crime’s root causes. In the criminal justice system focus is on “who committed a crime?” and “how”, whereas, in criminology question of “why?” arises i.e., why someone would lead to violating the law. However, criminology refers to the study of crime. It focuses much on the reasoning and logic behind the crime and its impact on society at large. A study of criminal behavior and criminal psychology are collectively called as “criminology”.

Thus, criminology is defined as-

Study of crime and criminal behavior informed by principles of sociology and other non-legal fields, including psychology, economics, statistics and anthropology. Criminology studies social action data and combines it with criminal activity in order to determine a motive and criminal consequences.

History of Criminology

Paul Topinard during a study used the word “criminology” for the first time in 1889. It was in the eighteenth century where that two scholars like Cesare Beccaria in Italy, who is also known as the Father of Criminology and Jeremy Bentham in England, who also contributed to the criminal justice system. Later, in the nineteenth century, scholars and thinkers started to find the reasons for criminal acts committed by an individual along with his society in the study of criminology. It means the study of criminology started giving space to the empirical method in its sphere and ambit. Further, Bentham put more emphasis on crime rather than on crime. According to him, the consequences of crime are more important rather than the motivation for the crime. If we compare his theory to modern principles of criminology mens rea is of less significance.

Eminent scholars like Plato, Aristotle, Bentham, and Voltaire focused more on social reforms in legal and political institutions so that a naturalistic vision of criminal law can be achieved. The social contract theory gained prominence during this time as it dealt with the meeting of social minds i.e., living together in society as per the contract made with the state. Here the state is conferred with the power of lying down moral and political norms or rules of behavior in order to comply with fundamental social rules, laws and principles of society. Thus, we can say that criminology founds its origin in the basics of social contract theory also.

The nature and scope of criminal theories changed as and when time and societal norms changed. If we focus on ancient criminological jurisprudence concepts like DANDA, DHARMA AND RAJ DHARMA. These are the disciplinary codes made for the emancipation of society. A code which binds society in particular norms in order to make the criminal justice system better.

History of Criminology in India

The criminal justice system in India follows the legal procedures established by the British in the pre-independence era. After the call of the United Nations Educational, Scientific And Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1957 for the development of criminology in developing countries, India also took a step forward to develop the academic aspects of criminology. The central university in the state of Madhya Pradesh namely Sagar University first established an academic study of criminology in 1959.

Schools of Criminology

Pre-Classical School

Pre-classical school is the most ancient school of thought in the field of criminology. During that period religion had the upper hand in ruling Europe. Saint Thomas Acquinas was a thinker of this school who by the means of theology and philosophy gave divine connotation to the theory of crime. He had given an important spiritual explanation of crime and its punishment. He focused more on the causes of crime rather than the consequences. For example, a thief commits theft due to misery and not evil intentions. According to him crime not only harmed victims but also criminals as impacted the Rationality and sensitiveness of a person. Aquinas views humans as rational animals and according to him, crime loses the rationality of a person.

Therefore, it can be said that pre-classical school is based more on the teachings of saint Thomas Aquinas. As mentioned earlier Europe was dominated by religious ideas during this period. Scientific temperament was absent there, so belief in philosophical understanding had gained importance. Belief in some external power was there rather than inner conscience. It was believed that man doesn’t commit crime due to his or her free will but due to the influence of some external power. That devil force deviates a man from doing a righteous thing. Due to this man becomes reckless and loses moral values. According to this school fear of God starts removing as soon as an individual gets attracted towards the world of demons. Here, God acts as a check on individual activities in order to keep him away from the satanic world.

Why has Pre-Classical School Known As Demonological School?

As mentioned earlier pre-classical school was more based omnipotence of God which they considered a sovereign power. Further during the 17th century religious and spiritual conceptions started gaining attention which had given scope for the advancement of the demonological school.

Nature Of Punishments During Pre-Classical School

During the pre-classical school nature of punishments was severe such as whipping, ordeal by hot water, burning, ordeal by hot oil, etc. the main aim behind the infliction of such harsh punishment was to stop an individual from following a path of demons and to urge an individual to follow a path of the divine. The offender was exposed to cruel treatment in order to avoid the repetition of offenses. Though this approach was unscientific and inhuman it was accepted in that period. They were keen on the principles in which they believed i.e the sovereign authority of God.

Classical School

The thinkers in the eighteenth century had developed this school of thought on Criminology. As previously there were severe punishments like amputation of organs, capital and others involving the intent of hurting the wrongdoer bodily, which were said to be harsh and don’t reduce the rate of crime. As the crimes were considered as ‘sin’ and they are said to be the act of Demon and Devils and they were known as the ‘Demonological theory of criminality’. Thus, the thinkers of this school improved the system of bodily punishments to the punishment for the soul by deterring the wrongdoer in prison. This school is developed by two notable Thinkers, they are Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham.

Cesare Beccaria

Cesare Beccaria is the ‘Father of Criminology’. Cesare Beccaria is an aristocrat and his thinking on the punishment system in Europe was irrational. Beccaria is a major contributor to the Criminal Law of Europe in the eighteenth century. Beccaria’s view on punishments was preventive, as stated in his book, “its contents were designed to undermine many if not all of the cherished beliefs of those in a position to determine the fate of those accused and convicted of a crime. [An] attack on the prevailing systems for the administration of criminal justice. it aroused the hostility and resistance of those who stood to gain by the perpetuation of the barbaric and archaic penological institutions of the day[1].” Beccaria believed in three ideology that:

  1. Every individual has free will in doing an act and should not be restricted;
  2. Every individual acts rationally for his wants and goods, thus law should be protective of an individual.
  3. Every individual’s behavior is predictable and so, it can be predicted and controlled.

Beccaria propounded the principle of ‘Pleasure and Pain’, where Beccaria argued on the same level of punishment is ordered for two different crimes. Beccaria also argued against the different punishment for the same crime to different classes of people, through these words “If an equal punishment is ordained for two crimes that injure society in different degrees, there is nothing to deter men from committing the greater [crime] as often as it is attended with greater advantage[2].” Beccaria always stood against the severity of punishments, as follows, “So that any punishment be not an act of violence of one or of many against the other, it is essential that it be public, prompt, necessary, [as] minimal in severity as possible under given circumstances, proportional to the crime, and prescribed by the laws[3].”

Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham is an English philosopher and contributed more towards Law and Punishments. Jeremy Bentham supports and follows the general principles of Cesare Beccaria. Moreover, Jeremy Bentham also made his contribution to the Classical School of Criminology, as both of them belonged to a similar time period, where the Criminal system in Europe is more severe. Jeremy Bentham propounded the concept of utilitarianism’, which was expressed as, an “…irrational system of absolutes but by a supposedly verifiable principle. The principle was that of ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ or simply ‘the greatest happiness.” Bentham propounded the “Of the four sources Sanctions or Sources of Pain and Pleasure”, which provides the form of the severity of punishment. Moreover, he places that calculation for punishments isn’t necessary, small disproportion shall be ignored.

Neo-Classical School

After the emergence of the classical school, the neo-classical school gained prominence as it was realized that the classical school is more confined to a historical and literature-based approach. Further, it explains crime as a free will choice of a person i.e., criminals make a rational choice regarding the commission of a crime. Behind the commission of any criminal act, they supported the maximum pain and minimum pleasure principle. Even they supported severe punishment in order to inflict pain and torture and to create fear in the minds of people.

However, neo-classical schools focus more on scientific study by recognizing the mental aspects of an offender. According to neo classical school of thought, psychology plays an important role in the commission of a crime. They supported the individualization of offender-like circumstances under which the person has committed the crime. People lacking a normal level of intelligence or some mental incapacities are irresponsible in their conduct as they do not have the such understanding to differentiate between criminal and non-criminal acts.

Further, they added that factors such as the personality of an individual, previous life history, character, and social and economic background should be taken into consideration in assessing the guilt of the accused. It is the neo-classical school of thought only which provided a pathway toward the origin of the jury system in criminal jurisprudence.

Punishments Offered Under Neo-Classical School

Neo-Classical Scholars differentiate in the case of punishment inflicted on an individual based on a psychological understanding of a person. It takes into consideration the mental state of a person while committing a crime. Thus, they justified the mitigation of equal punishment in cases of certain psychopathic offenders. Commenting on this point, GILLIN observed that “neo-classists represent a reaction against the severity of classical view of equal punishment for the same offence.”

Positivists School

The Positivist schools attempted to define scientific principles for the measurement and qualification of criminal behavior. Science is the core aspect of this school which negates the logical and divine concepts unlike the pre-classical school of thought. It deals with the major aspect of scientific Socialism. Thus, it is divided into-

  1. Biological positivism

Biological positivism had taken into consideration the elements like physical features and it also produces the study on physiognomy which linked attributes of the mind to frame the brain as revealed through the skull. It put emphasis on the fact that the real cause of criminality lay in the anthropological features of criminals. In short, it focuses on the anthropological and biological aspects of the offender toward the commission of a crime. This school tries to establish a symbiotic relationship between criminality and the structure and functioning of the brain. The main exponents of this school were three eminent Italian criminologists namely: Ceasare Lombroso, Raffalele Garafalo, and Enrico Ferri. Therefore, this school is also known as the Itlalian School Of Criminology.

  1. Psychological Positivism

If Biological Positivism Takes into consideration the physical aspects of crime, psychological positivism considers the mental aspect of crime. It looks at determinations, thoughts, reactions and emotional intelligence in criminal behavior. He was Sigmund Freud who established the psychoanalytical model in which he discussed the three sets of interacting forces like ID, EGO and SUPEREGO. These are the three elements in a human personality that urge them to behave in a certain manner.

  1. Social Positivism

Social positivism considers the impact of crime on society as a whole. It’s another name for the scientific study of society or the social world. He was August Compte who developed a positivist approach to the positivist school of thought. It deals with the fact that society is like a physical world and functions based on a general set of laws.

Thus, it can be said that the positive school of thought focuses on the sociological definition in terms of the biological determination of crime. Instead of infliction of punishment upon offenders this school suggests treatment methods dealing with the fact that criminals be punished not according to the gravity of their crime but according to the circumstances concerned with it.


It may be concluded that schools of criminology are the principles or code of conduct for Jurisprudence which deals with a socio-legal study which seeks to discover the causes of criminality and recommends remedies to reduce crime. These schools of criminology are the base for effective guidelines for the formation of criminal regulations and penal policy.


Indian journal of integrated research

The Schools of Criminology   – Indian Journal of Integrated Research in Law Volume II Issue II | ISSN: 2583-0538

[1]  “On Crimes and Punishment” First English Edition, 1767.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

This Article has been written by Sumedha Mohan Singote, LL.M Student at the National Institute of Securities Market affiliated with MNLU, Mumbai.

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