Classical and Positivist Views on Crime

Thinkers, writers and idealists began conducting research into human and social practices in different disciplines, the good and evil side of human being as an individual, as society as a whole, and individual in relation to society and vice versa, and the balance and imbalances in human behaviour and the fairness or the lack of it in social norms.
Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws (1748), and Beccaria’s Of Crimes and Punishments (1764), collided with the mandarins of the powerful Catholic church and despotic rulers who held sway over large parts of Europe, France and Italy in particular. Nevertheless, it found favour with some ‘despots’ such as Frederick the Great of Prussia and Empress Catherine of Russia.
The writings of Beccaria dwelt on the form of punishment befitting the crime and not any harsher. It did not go at length into the reformatory aspect as it was ‘only God who could reform the offender.’ It favoured abolition of capital punishment and torture which more often conferred martyrdom, stood for deterrent retribution such that encouraged aversion of recidivism, full protection of the rights of the accused at every stage, allowing for the presumption of innocence of the accused until proven guilty, and set the criteria for selection of the jury.
In Britain, Jeremy Bentham’s Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) expounded his deliberations by applying his theory of ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number.’ Bentham swore by Beccaria. However, there were certain anomalies on their views on corporal punishment and its preferred use for the greater good of society as a whole. For instance, Bentham was prepared to the use of torture if it resulted in obtaining information for prevention of greater harm. Beccaria’s of social contract alluded to the fact that no one ‘could have agreed to the possibility of receiving excessively harsh punishment.’ [ch5, p92]1
Positivist Criminology
Beccaria’s work changed the way the system of justice functioned and introduced punitive measures of the exemplary kind. However, crime statistics which began to be observed annually in France from 1827 showed that there was no salutary effect of the newfound theory. If anything, statistics revealed that crime rates were going up, not moving down.
Beccaria’s theory was found wanting in regard to educating offenders to respect law. Thus, other factors were felt necessary to bring down the crime rate. Observation of rural and urban backgrounds, the rich-poor gap, generation gap, social inequalities, were some of the factors touched upon.
Positivist criminology, unlike its classical counterpart, was more environmental and less biological in its outlook and approach to the study, observation and application of the causes and effect of justice and crime. It went on to structure the system on the basis of the inadequacies in both the individual as well as the system.
Andre-Michel Guerry, in his book, Essai sur la statistique morale de