Chapter Two Notes –
- Most often associated with Cesare Beccaria, because of his work which was based on
free-will rationalistic hedonism. Beccaria proposed that people weighed the pros
and cons, and if they found the rewards to be higher than the costs, they would
offend. Therefore, punishments for the crimes should always be proportional, i.e.
always exceed reward.
- Includes three related but different strands of theory & research which are related
to practical policy recommendations to reduce crime; first: focuses on theory and
research about the deterrent effect of criminal justice policies; second: argues that
rationally calculating potential offenders respond to opportunities to commit crimes
and these opportunities are systematically related to the “routine activities” by
which people live their lives; third: the “rational choice” approach developed a more
complex view of how offenders in particular situations calculate their costs and
benefits – leads to policy recommendations that focus on changing situations in
order to influence potential offender’s calculations.
Social & Intellectual Background of Classical Criminology
- Classical criminology was a protest against those criminal justice policies and
against the spiritual explanation of crime on which they were based.
- Thomas Hobbes – “Social Contract” – people naturally pursue their own interests
without caring about whether they hurt anyone else – “war of each against all.”
- Argued that people are rational enough to realize that this situation is not good
for anyone, so everyone agrees to give up selfish behaviour, as long as everyone else
does too – Social Agreement (Contract) – This contract needs enforcement: state.
- Other social contract philosophers include: Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire &
- By the middle of 1700s these naturalistic ideas were well known, and widely
accepted by intellectuals of the day, but did not represent the thinking of the
powerful political groups that ruled various states in Europe.
- Beccaria sought to change the punishments of this time, and his book was well-
received; shortly after its publication, both the French and American Revolutions
occurred, which were guided by naturalistic ideas of philosophers, including
Beccaria & The Classical School
- In 1764, he wrote an essay titled “On Crimes and Punishments,” in which he proposed
the following ideas about how to make the criminal justice system both just and effective:
1. Role of legislatures should be to define crimes and to define specific punishments for
each crime (rather than allow the implementation in the hands of judges).
2. Role of judges should be to determine guilt (whether or not the defendant did,
indeed, commit a crime). After making the determination, he should then consult the
law on how best to punish the criminal.
3. Seriousness of crime is determined by extent of harm it inflicts on society. Argued
that other factors, including intent, are irrelevant: “Sometimes, with the best intentions,
men do the greatest injury to society; at other times, intending the worst for it, they do
the greatest good.”
4. Purpose of punishment should be to deter crime. Punishment, therefore, should fit
the crime: “…the obstacles that deter man from committing crime should be stronger in
proportion as they are contrary to the public good.”
5. Punishments are unjust when their severity exceed what is necessary to achieve
deterrence: “one should include the certainty of punishment and the loss of the good
which the crime might have produced….beyond this is superfluous and…tyrannical.”
6. Excessive severity fails to deter crime, and increases it: people are driven to commit
more crimes to avoid initial one.
7. Punishments should be prompt: “…the more just and useful it will be,” “…so much
stronger and more lasting in the human mind is the association of crime and
9. Punishments should be certain: “The certainty of a punishment even if it be
moderate, will always make a stronger impression than the fear of another which is
more terrible but combined with the hope of impunity; even the least evils, when they
are certain, always terrify men’s minds.”
- Also emphasized that laws should be published so that public may know what they
are, and support their intent and purpose, that torture and secret accusations be
abolished, capital punishment should be replaced by imprisonment, jails be more
humane, and the law should not distinguish between rich and the poor.
From Classical Theory to Deterrence Research
- During 1800s naturalistic approach of classical criminology became basis for all
criminal justice systems in the world. Beccaria’s theory was not subject to empirical
tests until 1968, when Gibbs published the first study to attempt to test deterrence
-Gibbs found that greater certainty and severity of imprisonments was associated with
fewer homicides in the fifty states for 1960. Therefore, he concluded homicide might be
deterred by both certainty and severity of punishment. - Following year, Title computed similar stats. His results indicated that more certainty
was associated with less crime for all seven offenses (index offenses). With the
exception of homicide, however, more severity (time in prison) was associated with
more crime. Concluded that certainty of imprisonment deters crime, but severity only
deters crime when certainty is high.
- 1970, Chiroicos and Waldo argued that Tittle’s results on certainty could be explained
by variations in police record-keeping – i.e., handling offenses informally without
making an official record because then that jurisdiction will have what appears to be a
lower crime rate. Only the more serious offenses would be made official, influencing
what their certainty of punishment actually is.
- 1974 Glaser and Zeigler challenged Gibb’s conclusion that increased imprisonment
deters homicide. Pointed our death penalty states have substantially higher murder
rates than do non-death penalty states, but murders in death penalty states who are not
executed serve shorter prison sentences than do murderers in non-death penalty states.
Gibbs & Tittle found: shorter prison sentences and higher murder rates – vs. – longer
prison sentence and lower murder rates.
- Study concluded that the evidence favouring a deterrent effect was greater than the
evidence against it.
Three Types of Deterrence Research
1. Effects of policies that target specific crimes in specific places (police crackdowns on
drug markets, drunk driving, disorderly conduct, illegal gun usage). Research has
shown these policies generally achieve an initial deterrent effect (initial deterrence
decay) but that this effect tends to deteriorate rather quickly, even while the crackdown
is still in operation. In addition, the deterrent effect often persists after the crackdown
has ended (residual deterrence).
2. Distinction between objective risks and the perception of these risks by potential
3. Looks at criminal justice policies in different jurisdictions and at the crime and at the
crime rates associated with these policies to see if there is a deterrent effect (e.g., the
deterrence hypothesis would suggest that jurisdictions that have more police officers,
imprison more people, and utilize the death penalty should have less crime. A large
volume of research has been done on this, but results are unsatisfying).
Problems with this research:
- It is possible that an increased perception of risk leads to reduced criminal behaviour,
but it is also possible that engaging in criminal behaviour leads to a more realistic (i.e.,
decreased) perception of risk. Research suggests that there is little or no deterrent
effect associated wi