The Top 10 criminologists that changed our view of criminal behavior

Before we continue, we have to ask the question what criminology is? It is a study of causes, control, extent, consequences, and prevention of criminal behavior socially or individual.

Here we will have a look at the top ten most influential and famous criminologists.

1. Cesare Beccaria

cesare beccaria italian criminologist

He was the first criminologist that we know of that looked into theories of crime and society. He lived in Italy in the 18th Century, and had a career in mathematics and studied economics. He became interested in crime and was a reformer during the Enlightenment; he spoke out about the death penalty.

His most famous work is “On Crimes and Punishment, “ and it was the first published argument against the death penalty. His publication also advocates a reform of the criminal justice system. He believed that punishment should be preventative and that the certainty of punishment had more impact on deterring criminal behavior than the severity of the penalty.

Beccaria’s publication “On Crimes and Punishment” is the first instance of Penology. Penology is a sub-division of Criminology and deals with the punishment of criminal behavior in a way, that fits the severity of the crime. The main purpose is to prevent future by having a subsequent punishment in place. Penology is therefore theoretic and practical.

If we were to put look further at the Theory of Beccaria in a nutshell it would amount to the following:

Beccaria sees society in a social contract where all persons are subjugated to the same laws and motivated to follow and obey them. The second part of his theory is aimed at Utility, this is the swift and fair punishment of criminals to the benefit of society.

The main and most influential parts of Beccaria’s theory is:

  • Punishment of a crime should not be for revenge or self motivated reasons but for the deterrent factor it provides.
  • Every crime should have a well thought out and deserving punishment that fits it.
  • The chance of receiving punishment should be more than enough to prevent a crime, and not the severity.
  • Convictions should be for all to see.
  • He also believed in order for all of the above to be attained punishment had to be prompt.

Taking all of his most important points into account, we can see his contributions to criminology had a major impact on modern society and the way we deal with crime in general.

2. Cesare Lombroso

He believed that there were genetic predispositions for crimes, he also thought that physical characteristics might indicate that someone has criminal tendencies. He brought the term born criminal into public acceptance. Cesare said that criminals were evolutionary regressions and that the physical characteristics suggest that the criminal had devolved.

He spent his time compiling anthropological data, measuring different criminals physiological features and compile scientific methodology for predicting criminal behavior.

Cesare Lombroso’s Positivist school of Criminology

Cesare Lombroso also started the Positivist school of Criminology. It is worth our time to take a closer look at the Positivist school of criminology as it was one of the reasons Lombroso was a popular figure in his day.

The Positivist school of Criminology tried to objectively measure and quantifies criminal behaviour in a scientific way. (This way of thinking is what made Lombroso very popular, the blame that would often fall on society is now put squarely on the shortcomings, or shall we say defects of the individual).

The establishment of this school is a major turning point in history as it did away with the Classical School’s social philosophy and was replaced by scientific thinking and  laws created/discovered by science experts.  It is broken down into three parts: Biological Positivism, Psychological positivism and Psychological positivism.

Lombroso also categorised criminals into the following types:

  • Criminaloids
  • Criminals by Passion
  • Born Criminals
  • Occasional Ciminals

3. Enrico Ferri

He was an Italian sociologist. He was a student of Cesare Lombroso, but he was more interested in the economics and social factors that caused crimes. He’s beliefs were to tweak economics and social factors that led to crimes behaviors it can prevent crime rather than punish it. He was a radical and an outspoken socialist. His famous work was Criminal Sociology, a study what societal factors contribute to criminal behavior.

The basis of his theories formed the 1921 penal code adopted by Argentina.

4. Alexandre Lacassagne

He was a French physician who became interested in crime and psychology through his work.

Alexandre was the creator of the Lacassagne School of Criminology based in Lyon, France. His school was also the rival of Lombroso in Italy. He said that the social factors had more to do with criminality than heredity. He divided criminals into different types: thought, act and instinctual. He placed some importance on phrenology, and that is why his contributions have been overlooked until modern times

5. Hans Eysenck

When young Hans Eysenck moved from Berlin to England, he opposed the Nazi party and was determined to get out of Germany. He was a psychology professor.

His primary study was personality and genetic factors that influence personality. He looked at psychoticism, and that was part of his interest in criminology.

He wrote a book on Crime and Personality and also behavioral therapy and personality as it relates to intelligence. His theories contributed to knowledge of criminal personalities, and many of his theories were developed with the help of his wife, Sybil.

6. Robert Hare

He considered questions of psychopathology and psychophysiology. He has researched the qualities of a psychopath, and he wrote a couple of books on the subject. Psychopathy: Theory and Research and Without  Conscience, The Disturbing World of Psychopaths among us.

He said that you might sometimes not be able to identify murderers, but he did develop a checklist to help psychologist identify psychopaths.

The checklist of Hare is considered the most reliable metric to measure psychopathy.

7. Jane Adams

She was born into money, did not care for marriage or to bore a child she was instead interested in the plights of the less fortunate. She was an activist and a lecturer in the studying of causes of crime and believed that poverty and society contributed to crime. She encouraged studies of the underlying causes of crime.  She helped found the U.S Settlement House Movement believing that economic security would help battle crime. She received the Nobel Peace Prize, Adams was the second woman to receive this prestigious award.

8. Edwin Sutherland

Edwin Sutherland is one of the most influential criminologists of the 20th century. He was the author of Principles of Criminology; the textbook was the basics of criminology. He created the term white collar criminal which today we know as white collar crimes. He said that criminal behavior develops from associating with those who committed a crime and delinquency was likely the result of learned behaviors.  He suggests that social disorganization and conflict contributes to crime.

9. William Julius

Julius was a prominent socialist and went to the University of Chicago and Havard. The works of Julius mostly revolved around race and how that impact the different crime rates.

His books are called “The Truly Disadvantage” and “The Declining Significance of Race.” He studied urban sociology, and some factors contributed to crime especially urban poverty. He wondered about poverty amongst blacks and if that may be the reason for the high crime rate. Julius also studied discrimination and how it relates to crime, housing, hiring, and education.

10. James Q Wilson

He was a High Profile member of the American Enterprise Institute and former chair of the White House task force on crime. James is a political science professor and is famous for his work on crime. His work has included preventing delinquency among children and how mortality relates to crime. He was also a member of the Attorney General’s Task Force on Violent Crime.

Now that we have come to the end of our list of the most influential Criminologists I think you will find it helpful to have a look at the following recap info graphic  about  the top ten criminologists  that changed criminology.

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