You are on page 1of 14

VARIOUS SCHOOLS OF CRIMINOLOGY/THEORIES OF CRIME AND CAUSATION

Various scholars have attempted to explain the causation of crime and criminal behavior. Each school of
criminology explains crime in its own manner and suggests punishment and measures to suit its ideology.
Each school represents the social attitude of people towards crime in a given time.

Pre-Classical School of Criminology
During the period of the seventeenth century Europe was characterized by a dominance of religion in state
activities. At this stage, scientific knowledge was yet unknown. The concept of crime was vague and
obscure. Society was at the time largely unable to explain criminal behavior. An explanation of criminal
conduct was therefore sought through spirits, demons, and other unknown powers. The principle behind
this concept was that a man commits a crime due to the influence of some external power and is not
subject to the control or understanding of man. Since the spirit world is not one that is easily understood
or discernable, it formed a perfect explanation for crime.
No further attempts were made to probe the real cause of crime. Worship, sacrifices, ordeals by fire and
water were usually prescribed to pacify the spirit and relieve the victims of its evil influence. Trial by
battle was also used as a method of deciding the fate of the criminal. The criminal was therefore treated as
a person who could only be cured through torture and pain. The pre-classical thinking has however
withered away with the lapse of time and advancement of knowledge.

Naturalistic School
The proponents of this school argued that crime must be explained through the use of ideas and
interpretations of objects and events and their interrelation with the existing world. Thus, there is no place
for other worldly powers or spirits. No matter how unsatisfactory, the explanation must rest on what is
known or assumed to be true of the physical and material world. This approach is ancient as well as
modern.

The Classical School of Criminology
During the middle of the eighteenth century, Beccaria the pioneer of modern criminology expounded his
naturalistic theory of criminality by rejecting the theory propounded by the pre-classical school. He laid
greater emphasis on the free will of the individual, arguing that intelligence and rationality are the
fundamental characteristics of man and therefore the basis for the explanation of human behavior whether
individual or collective. Thus, intelligence makes man capable of self-direction and any conduct engaged
in will be assumed to have been thought of and rationalized by the individual. Within this frame of

e. It is the act of an individual and not his intent which forms the basis for determining criminality in him. In other words. The greatest achievement of the classical school is the fact that it shifted emphasis from myths and concentrated on the personality of the offender in order to determine his guilt and punishment. . They therefore stressed the need for a well-established system of criminal justice. I. they accepted punishment as a mode of inflicting pain. Nonetheless. They further believed that criminal law was primarily based on positive sanctions. The classical criminologists supported the right of the state to punish offenders in the interest of public security.e. it proceeded on an abstract presumption of free will and relied solely on the criminal act without devoting any attention to the state of mind of the criminal.reference. the classical school has the following shortcomings:  Firstly. They were against arbitrary use of power by judges and abhorred torturous punishments. Man applies his sense of reasoning as a responsible individual: 2. crime is defined as the commission of any action prohibited by criminal law or the omission of any act required by it. The proponents of this school of thought considered crime prevention more important than the punishment for it. this perspective is concerned with the question of deterrence. They however advanced the theory of equalization of justice i. 6. 3. Thus. The classical criminologists are greatly influenced by hedonism – the pain (cost) and pleasure (benefit) theory. The rational response of society should therefore be to increase the cost and decrease the benefits of crime to the point that individuals will not choose to commit a crime. The task for criminology is seen as designing and testing a system of punishment that would result in the minimum occurrence of crime. 4. humiliation and disgrace on the offender so as to create fear in him and thus control his behavior. 5. Classical criminologists are therefore concerned with the “act” of the criminal rather than his “intent”. Thus. crime and criminals are usually viewed from a strictly legal point of view. A criminal is defined as a person who commits a crime. Crime is seen as the product of the free choice of the individual who assesses the potential benefits of committing the crime against its potential cost. The punishment was to be meted out keeping in view the pleasure derived by the criminal from the crime and the pain caused to the victim there from. Equal punishment for the same offence. The main tenets of the classical school of criminology are as follows: 1. Beccaria was the first criminologist to shift the emphasis from crime to criminals. Keeping in view the hedonistic principle of pain and pleasure they pointed out that individualization was to be the basis of punishment.

7. 3. Although they recommend lenient treatment for irresponsible or mentally deprived criminals on account of their incapacity to resist criminal tendency. insane or incompetent persons had to be treated leniently irrespective of the similarity of their criminal acts with those of other offenders. they unanimously believed that all criminals whether responsible or irresponsible must be kept away from society. They approached the study of criminology on scientific lines by recognizing that certain extenuating situations or mental disorders deprive the criminal of his normal capacity to control his conduct. 4. This reasoning was based on the argument that such persons are incapable or partially incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. The distinction between responsibility – sanity and insanity as suggested by the neo-classical school paved way for the formation of the different correctional institutions such as parole. The main shortcoming of the neo-classical school is that their theory presumes that the criminal whether responsible or irresponsible is a menace to society and therefore needs to be eliminated from it. probation etc in the criminal justice system. But those lacking normal intelligence or suffering some mental depravity are not responsible for their conduct as they do not possess the capacity of distinguishing between good or bad and should therefore be treated differently from other offenders. The neo-classists asserted that certain categories of offenders such as minors. In so doing they represent a reaction against the severity of the classical view of equal punishment for the same offence. This school adopted a subjective approach to criminology and concentrated their attention on conditions under which an individual commits crime. The origin of the jury system and the assessor system is essentially the result of the reaction of the neo-classical approach towards the treatment of offenders. Neo-Classical School of Criminology The “free-will” theory of the classical school did not survive for long due to the oversights mentioned above. Their primary concern is therefore to protect society from crime and criminals. idiots. Through this school therefore attention of criminologists was drawn to the facts that all crimes have a cause. 2.  It also erred in prescribing equal punishment for similar offences thus making no distinction between first offenders and habitual offenders. . The Neo-Classical theory can be summarized as follows: 1. They were the first school to point out the distinction between a first offender and a recidivist. They started on the premise and assumption that man acts on reason of intelligence and is therefore responsible for his own conduct. 5. 6.

Critical criminologists would for example maintain that the phenomenon of crime is socially constructed when a society defines certain actions and people as criminal. Those who argue that the factors are biological believe that man’s social organization has developed as a result of his biological evolution and hence social evolution is subsequent and not primary. Its proponents are not preoccupied with the question of whether man’s behavior is free or determined. sociology and philosophy. Criminology is therefore understood as an analysis of criminal behavior through scientific study of the physical. Thus crimes and criminals are not independent phenomena that can be identified and studied objectively by the social scientist. employing a variety of disciplines which include political science. sociology and history among other disciplines. biology. economics. Positivists thinking thus relies heavily o philosophy. Crime and criminals exist only to the extent that they are defined as such by society. The real cause of crime lay in the anthropological features of the criminal. With the advance of time and the development of scientific research during the nineteenth century certain doctors in Europe were successful in establishing that it was neither the “free-will”(Classical) of the offender nor his innate depravity nor evil spirits that actuated the offender to commit crime. Critical Criminology This is a framework based on critical thinking. Some proponents of this theory tried to . The critical criminologist therefore studies the processes by which particular people and actions become criminal at particular times and places. Any of a wide variety of people and actions may. They are concerned with the process by which man creates the social world in which he lives. be the subject of these definitions.Positive Criminology This school presumes that man’s behavior is determined by factors outside his control. THE ANTROPOLOGICAL SCHOOL/THE ITALIAN SCHOOL OF CRIMINOLOGY This is one of the earliest positivist schools of thinking. On the other hand positivists who base their theory on cultural factors. at one time or another. social and cultural characteristics of the criminal. These factors are either biological or cultural. argue that man’s behavior despite his identification with the world of biology is always related to and somehow reflects the characteristics of the social world in which he lives.

7. Lombroso was therefore. The lips would be fleshy and swollen.demonstrate the organic functioning of the brain and established a co-relationship between criminality and the structure and functioning of brain. Their faces were not symmetrical. 6. The theory was largely based on degeneracy. The chin would be receding or excessively long or excessively flat as in apes. Lombroso turned attention from crime to criminals.e. From his research. His theory was based on the view that the physical characteristics of the criminal were an important causation for his criminal behavior. of the view that criminals were born criminal. 4. The main proponents of this theory are three Italian criminologists:  Cesare Lombroso  Raffaele Garofolo  Enrico Ferri Cesare Lombroso He is referred to as the father of the Italian school of criminology. beak-like for murderers or with the tip rising like a peak. They had a deviation in head size and shape. the criminal was a biological throw-back to an earlier evolutionary stage – a man more primitive and savage than his non-criminal counterparts. 5. 2. He was an Italian psychiatrist who was a physician in the army. 3. According to him. . 9. 8. They had ears of unusual size – very small or standing out from the head as do those of chimpanzees. They would have eye defects and peculiarity. the criminal was inferior in his development to normal man and resembled lower or ape-like animals. the nose would be twisted and upturned. based on a study of 833 Italian criminals mainly drawn from the army. This degeneracy was atavistic – i. The dentition would be abnormal. From his experience he concluded that the criminals were a distinct anthropological type possessing definite physical characteristics. the nose would be flat. he concluded that born criminals had the following characteristics: 1. He arrived at his conclusions. During his period of service in the army he was able to observe those army personnel who were trouble-makers. They would have excessive dimensions of the jaw and cheek bones. For thieves.

10. 21 percent had one or more of such anomalies. Charles Goring He was an English criminologist who carried out research on the psychology of criminals. The environment had no relevance whatsoever to the crimes committed by these offenders. Critique of Lombroso’s theory. Defects of the thorax – too many or too few ribs 13. He critiqued Lombroso’s worked based on the following issues. 43% had five or more. He therefore. Abundance and variety of wrinkles. Of the 833 criminal people studied. these were criminals who could not refrain from engaging in criminality. Excessive length of the arm. Insane Criminals The second category of criminals were insane criminals who resorted to criminality on account of certain mental disorders or insanity. He agreed with Lombroso’s statistical and inductive method and supported the latter’s view that criminals were often mentally depraved. 12. considered these criminals to be beyond reformation. He also commended Lombroso for his assertion that the centre point of penology was neither crime nor punishment but the individual. The Born Criminal In his opinion. he classified criminals as follows: 1. Atavistic Criminals The atavistic category are those who commit crime due to alcohol or when they get the opportunity. . Too many or too few fingers or toes. Crimes of Passion The third category are those who commit crime in a state of passion or due to inferiority complex. 2. In further research. Inversion of sex characteristics in the pelvic region. 15. 4. 3. 14. A person with five or more was described/classified as a criminal. Anomalies of the hair marked by characteristics of the hair of the opposite sex. 11. As such Lombroso adopted an objective and empirical approach to the study of criminals through his anthropological experiments.

short heavy persons commit assault. He was criticized on the following grounds:  Most of the people he studied were recidivists i. 3. According to him crime is the result of the impact of the environment upon low grade human organisms. 4. 5. Criminals have low sloping foreheads.  Even if specific differences did exist between the criminal and the non-criminal. they fell back to crime. In his opinion. Hooton He studied 17. His conclusions were quite similar to Lombroso’s.  One cannot declare people criminal merely by their physical characteristics. In 19 out of 33 measurements.  There is no such thing as a physical criminal type. The ear of the criminal tends to be rolled or small’ 7. this does not mean that the criminal is abnormal but rather the differences evidence a selected class of normal men whose qualities may present extreme degrees from the normal average. Tattooing is more common among criminals than civilians. Conclusion 1. Thin lips and compressed jaw angles are common in criminals.e. The study concluded that big tended to be murderers and robbers. Undersized men are thieves and burglars. thin necks and sloping shoulders. E. Men of mediocre physique have no specialty and commit several offences. Physical inferiority is significant as it is associated with mental inferiority. mentally and morally unfit or their complete segregation. there was a significant difference between criminals and civilians. 6. 2. the whole of Lombroso’s enterprise was conducted with the intention of stamping a pre-conceived idea with the hallmark of science. .000 individuals of whom 14. rape and other sex crimes. Thus Goring concluded that there is no such thing as a physical criminal.A.000 were criminals drawn from across 10 states of the United States of America. Criminals are inferior to civilians in nearly all their body characteristics. It therefore follows that the elimination of crime can only be effected the expiation of the physically. The use of the word criminal should be restricted to a legal framework which prohibits certain conduct and which finds those guilty of such conduct criminal and punishes them as such. Tall heavy men are killers and also commit forgery and fraud.

that crime can only be understood by scientific research and investigations.i. anger. improvement of laws and abolition of certain taxes.e. free trade. climate. organic and psychological conditions. In it he proposed that for the reformation.commit crimes out of impulse. He categorized the factors that lead to criminal behavior as follows. 3.  While he accepted that genetic make-up may influence behavior. organization of government. better economic conditions of the public. or excessive zeal. birth control. there were other factors that influenced crime such as psychological. Ferri proved that mere biological reasons were not enough to account for criminality. better street lighting. prevention and rehabilitation of criminals the following social needs had to be considered.  Social – population density. economic and emotional factors. 2. religion. Enrico Ferri (1856 – 1929) He was a student of Lombroso. temperature. Born criminals . public recreation. freedom of marriage and divorce. geographical location. abolition of monopolies. IN his opinion. Raffaele Garofolo (1852 – 1934) Garofolo was a magistrate in Italian courts. Occasional or habitual criminals – influenced by social factors around them and the need to satisfy certain needs within the social environment.  Physical – race. However. Ferri described a criminal as an agent of outside forces. Ferri emphasized that punishment is still important for the alleviation of crime and in some cases useful for reformation. In so doing he rejected the pre-classical theory and the classical theory of free will. For this reason Ferri is referred to as the founder of criminal sociology. Ferri classified criminals into the following categories: 1. During Mussolini’s regime Ferri prepared a Penal Code for Italy. Garofolo formulated a sociological definition of crime where crime meant any immoral and harmful act that is regarded as criminal by the public. he never actually clarified how this genetic make-up would actually influence the criminal. The criminal who commits the crime has no pity (sympathy) or . custom. though he challenged Lombroso’s views on criminality. sex. economic and industrial conditions. He agreed with Lombroso and Ferri in emphasizing the positive approach to crime . He ignored other important differences between criminals and civilians apart from physical characteristics.  Anthropological – age. Through his research. Insane criminals – inclined to crime due to congenital factors. sociological. seasonal effects.

 It attributed criminality to anthropological. Endemic criminals – e. 3.g.probity (honesty). not very optimistic about reformation of offenders from the experience in the criminal justice system. physical and social factors. murderers. the criminal himself. Repatriation for those who commit their under exceptional circumstances not likely to occur again. Partial elimination including lengthy or life time imprisonment and transportation for those fit only for the life of nomadic hordes or primitive tribes. He categorized criminals as such: 1. they commit crime in their own locality and are mainly influenced by passion. He also suggested mild isolation for young and more hopeful offenders. This paved way for modern penology to emphasize individualization as a method reformation. the personality of the criminal rather than his act – the crime or punishment.g. Appraisal of the Positive School  It rejected the earlier classical theories of spirit and free will. 2. Violent criminals – affected by environmental influences such as prejudices of honor. politics and religion Garofolo’s main contribution was his concentration on the idea of motive as an important causation of crime. He therefore. He suggested three means of eliminating crime: 1. Modern positivism does not strictly adhere to Lombroso. An understanding of motive was the first step to changing the criminal and alleviating criminal behavior in society. Ferri. thieves 3. Lack of pity causes crime against persons while lack of probity leads to crime against property. Criminal deficient in probity i. his environment and other causative factors in an attempt to determine the causes of crime and its elimination of reduction in society.  The attention of the criminologist was drawn to the individual. or Garafolo’s arguments. strongly emphasized and pleaded for elimination of habitual offenders were incapable of social adaptation as a measure of social defense. Criminals influenced by lust – lascivious criminals 4. It however emphasizes the application of scientific methods to the study of criminal behavior. . Garofolo was however. Death for those whose acts grow out of permanent psychological anomaly which renders the subject for ever incapable of a social life. 2.e. honesty e.

Thus a person who is not already trained in crime cannot invent criminal behavior 2. cultural conflict etc. Reformatory modes were to be used on different classes of criminals. The processes which result in criminal behavior are fundamentally the same in form as the processes which result in lawful behavior. . 5. This is common in areas where society is composed of people of different races. A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law. Increase or decrease in population can cause social disorganization. The Ecological School The ecological school examines factors including the environment and other social factors that may lead to criminal behavior.  Exponents abandoned the retributive mode of punishment. just like lawful behavior is learned. industrial growth.  While deciding a case a judge should not only consider the law but the circumstantial conditions of the accused. 6. training. habits and cultures. Criminal behavior is determined by a process of association with those who commit crime just as lawful behavior is determined by association with those who are law abiding. ethnic groups. Cultural conflict is the underlying cause of differential behavior. Criminal behavior. This theory is based on the following points: 1. Differential association is the specific causal process in the development of criminal behavior. 4. Social Disorganization Theory According to this school of thought high crime rates are indices of an underlying state of social disorganization. 3. motive etc in the two processes differ. This is why Sutherland calls it differential association. rapid changes in technology. The chance that a person will participate in systematic criminal behavior is determined roughly by the frequency and consistency of his contacts with other persons of a criminal behavior. The Differential Theory This theory was developed by Professor Edwin Sutherland an America criminologist. The principles of the process of association are the same in the development of criminal and lawful behavior but the techniques.  Only those criminals that were incapable of reformation were to be eliminated.

mental imbalance etc. The response has been that this criticism fails to take into account the words differential and excess. It cannot apply evenly to perpetrators of individual crimes e. January 1966). 4. The theory cannot apply uniformly to all kinds of offenders e. They discovered that the sixth assertion of the theory says that persons become criminals because of exposure to an overabundance of criminal associations. attitudes. 2. The theory fails to recognize biological and psychological factors. Oxford University Press 1958) who stated thus.g.e. rural and urban based offenders. 5. “One of the persistent problems that always has bedeviled the theory of differential association is the obvious fact that not every one in contact with criminality adopts or follows the criminal pattern”. occasional and incidental offenders or those pushed to criminal conduct by factors outside their control e. It has also been argued that contrary to Sutherland’s theory. It comes naturally.” . They restated the theory as follows: “Overt criminal behavior has as its necessary and sufficient conditions a set of criminal motivations. in comparison with anti-criminal associations. criminal or delinquent behavior is not learned. (page 194). and techniques. Sutherland’s theory does not attempt to explain the origin of crime. these words refer to both criminal and anticriminal associations and had to do with counteracting forces. It is non-criminal behavior that is learned. Criticism 1. white and blue-collar criminals.7. It is argued that biological differences in human personality also account for criminality in the individual. it acts as a conclusive study. Genetic make up.g. It relies on an existing criminal group that influences a normal person to engage in criminal activities. 3. the learning of which takes place when there is exposure to criminal norms in excess of exposure to corresponding anticriminal norms during symbolilc interaction in primary groups. yet it is generally accepted that there must be an element of the “unknown”. Response to the critics In response to one of the critics George B Vold (Theoretical Criminology. The theory fails to recognize that there may be an element of free will in human behavior and leaves little if any room for the introduction of new knowledge i. Social disorganization is the basic cause of systematic criminal behavior. Melvin L DeFleur and Richard Quinney (A Reformation of Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory and Strategy for Empirical Verification: (Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.g. crimes of passion.

while another case is also caused by combination of factors and circumstances. in response to the criticism that the theory does not explain why people have the associations that they have. natural or sociological factors. anthropological. immigration. Accordingly if a mother teaches her son that honesty is the best policy. The theory it is posited is concerned with ratios of patterns of behavior . ie the theory could only be realistically be expected to deal with facts or norms that were known and available at its conception. in response to the criticism that the theory says that persons become criminals through association with criminals is not the correct position. This approach which is considered more of an approach than theory is known as the multiple causation or factor theory. religion. physical. Social factors include population density.Hence it is erroneous to argue state or imply that the theory is invalid because a category of persons – such as policemen. customs. Lastly the responses can be seen in the context of on going research. Thirdly. but one form of this approach is also used in analysis of variations in crime rates. Fourthly. public order etc. criticisms form a good basis for new research taking into account various developments. Factors and circumstances taken onto consideration include. prison workers or criminologists – have had extensive association with criminal behavior patterns yet they are not criminals. In other words one can learn criminal behavior patterns from persons who are not criminals and anti criminal behavior patterns from hoods. Those who use this approach to study individual cases are convinced that crime is as a result of a combination many factors. that is they insist that no scientific theory of criminal behavior is possible. public opinion. It is used primarily in discussions of individual cases of crime. . it is stated that this is a highly relevant research problem and when viewed as a principle that attempts to account for variations in crime rates it does deal in a general way with differential opportunities for association with an excess of criminal behavior patterns. no matter what the character of the person presenting them. even if she herself is honest. non criminal and even anticriminal. be organized into general propositions which have no exceptions. there was criticism based on the use of the word systematic as opposed to general criminal behavior. Secondly. Multiple Causation Theory Many scholars have insisted that crime is a product of a large number of factors and that these factors cannot now and perhaps cannot ever. in subsequent publications Sutherland deleted the offending word. but also teaches him that it is alright to steal a loaf of bread when you are starving. professional crooks. habitual offenders and gangsters. she is presenting the son with an anticriminal behavior pattern and a criminal behavior pattern.

is taken out of school at an early age and put to work in a factory. this multiple causation assumption based on empirical studies gained importance within the area of criminology. fertility. 1951) . the delinquent child is generally a child handicapped not by one or two. is mentally deficient. at p 600). Cyril Burt A British scholar who using this multiple approach in a study (London: University of London Press. biological. (Sutherland calls this the inevitable consequence of such crass empiricism. but usually by seven or eight counts. Harper 1941): “Elaborate investigations of delinquents give us conclusive evidence that there is no single predisposing factor leading inevitably to delinquent behavior. such as the death of one parent or poverty and poor health. and profession. status. nearly every factor in his environment may seem to militate against him. and lives in a crowded home in a bad neighborhood. We are safe in concluding that almost any child can overcome one or two handicaps. social cultural and economic influences. However. found 170 conditions.” All the statement may seem to infer that each and every factor is of equal importance. Anthropological factors include age. climate.A proponent of this approach William Healy (The Individual delinquent (Boston: Little. ordinarily argue that either the presence of one or two important factors or seven or eight minor factors will cause delinquency. adherents of this approach. Brown 1915) was determined that no theoretical orientation or preconception would influence his findings and that he would simply observe any “causal factor” present. The result was that at a time when many were concerned with discounting the physical and biological explanations for crime. seasons. sex. The approach recognizes that behavior is conditioned by natural. Physical factors include race. and temperature etc. if the child has a drunken unemployed father and an immoral mother. 1944. On the other hand. A classical example of multiple factor thinking about individual cases is found in the book “Social Disorganization” by Mabel A Elliot and Francis E Merrill (New York. every one of which was considered as conducive to delinquency. Others have argued that the multiple causation or multiple factor theory is more illuminating and more in accord with the variety of people involved in crime – the variety in behavior and mentality of the people concerned. Criticism Albert Cohen (Harvard.) Crime is not assignable to one universal source but rather to a wide variety of reasons which is best explained by a multiple causation approach.

a fixed amount of crime producing power.g. this fallacious procedure might stem from a desire to eradicate crime without changing other existing conditions which we cherish and esteem. e. In criminology. “evil –causes -evil fallacy” this fallacy is that evil results (crime) must have evil precedents (broken homes. There has been confusion of explanation by means of a single factor and explanation by a single theory or system of theory applicable in all cases. A single theory does not explain crime in terms of a single factor and is often concerned with a number of variables. A theoretical explanation. The pertinent variable here is income and its value is $2. A test the theory is how well it accounts for all the variations in the values of the variables. . A variable is a characteristic or aspect such as velocity or income with respect to which something may vary. psychopathic personality etc).000. 3. Factors are not only confused with causes but each factor is also assumed to contain within itself a capacity to produced crime. or which may be safely deplored without hurting any one’s feelings. Thus one factor is not always considered powerful enough to produce crime in individual cases – several factors must conspire to do so. that is criminologists tend to identify with the existing social order and seek “causes” of crime in “factors” which might be eliminated without changing social conditions which they hold dear.000. a single theory organizes and relates the variables. but neither a statement of one fact (single factor) nor a series of such statements (multiple factors) about crime is a theoretical explanation of crime. per year”. We make statements of fact in terms of the values of these variables.1. so that when we explain crime or other social problem we tend to merely catalog a series of sordid and ugly circumstances which any “decent citizen” would deplore and attribute causal power to those circumstances. it is an abstract statement of how the known variations in the values of one variable are related to known variations in the values of other variables. “The crime rate is high among persons with incomes of less than $2. 2.