Criminal Justice Research Paper on Compare and Contrast Classical and Positive Criminology

Compare and Contrast Classical and Positive Criminology

The modern criminology emerged from the two principal schools of thought: classical and positivist schools. The study of criminology emerged to answer the question “what causes people to commit crime”, and some of the answers include blocked opportunities, delinquent peers, and delinquent labels (Adams, 2009, p. 491). A critical perspective in the study of criminal justice involves critical thinking and endeavors to raise the existing social order, as well as institutional arrangement. Crime is termed as a social disorder, and studying criminology theories is an attempt to understand why some individuals engage in crime.

The classical school began in the eighteenth-century while the positivist school emerged in the nineteenth-century, after classical school’s fall in popularity. The theory behind both schools was to search for rational and scientific answers to crime, as well as crime control. The main idea that the two schools shared concerns the creation of sufficient approaches to restrict deviant behaviors, which are considered perilous to society. Both schools are still in force, and were sought to reduce the cruel public executions. Both classical and positivist schools laid much emphasis on the “rule of law” (Hall, 2005, p. 604).

The classical criminology follows the idea of rationality. The development of rational classical criminology emerged from Cesare Beccaria, an Italian social philosopher, who advocated for “fair and certain punishment to deter crime (Siegel, 2011, p. 103). According to Siegel, classical criminology suggests that criminal behaviors are matters of personal choices that are made after individuals consider the costs, as well as benefits of those behaviors. Thus, the criminal behavior replicates the offender’s needs. Classical theorists claimed that crime could be managed through the fear of punishment, as punishment is perceived to be severe, but swift to prevent criminal acts.

The original version of classical criminology in the eighteenth-century stated that in every society, individual had free will to opt for criminal or lawful answers to meet their requirements or settle their issues. The law was designed in a way that the gravest offenses attracted the harshest punishments. However, classical criminology in the Enlightenment period did not provide for justifying circumstances. An individual who stole to enrich himself was treated just like another individual who robbed to satisfy his hunger. This idea prompted for scientific ways of dealing with crime.

On the contrary, the positivist criminology emerged in the perspective of scientific revolution. This school emerged 100 years after the emergence of classical school to reject the notion that men are always rational beings and act through free will. The theory focuses on the divergent, yet interrelated sociological, psychological, and biological methods of studying crime and crime control (Barak, 2009). The study of crime assisted positive theorists to differentiate between criminals and non-criminals. Positivist theorists believe that criminals are born with criminal behavior, rather than being impacted by social or environmental factors.

Positive criminology was influenced by Darwinian evolutionary assumption in the sense that if the theory of evolution was applicable to animals, the same theory could apply to human beings. Cesare Lombroso was one of the theorists of positivist schools, who borrowed ideas from Darwinian Theory to suggest that men are born criminals through gradual evolution (Barak, 2009). The sociological aspects of positivism assert that crime is a social occurrence, which involves a form of control in a given collective setup. For Lombroso, rehabilitating of repeat offenders is time wasting, and the best thing is to separate them from first-time offenders. Some of the positivist theorists, such as Garofalo, advocated for execution of hardened offenders, as they do not stand a chance to reform.   


Adams, M. S. (2009). A Delinquent Discipline: The Rise and fall of Criminology. Academic Questions, 22(4), 491-503.

Barak, G. (2009). Criminology: An Integrated Approach. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Hall, J. (2006). General principles of criminal law. Clark (NJ: The Lawbook Exchange.

Siegel, L. J. (2011). Criminology: The core. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.