Classicism Beliefs and Crime With Rational Punishment

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“The criminal commits it” will be reviewed under Classicism. Classism originated from the belief that crime was a product of free will, which resulted in many classical theorists assuming a Rational Choice Theory perspective. The forefront of Classicism is to link crime with rational punishment, not to explain the criminal’s behaviour. Unlike Positivism, Classicism does not adopt a scientific approach, crime is instead seen as a result of free will and rational choice. 

Two key Classical theorists were Beccaria and Bentham who advocated for fair punishment, they shunned barbaric punishment and instead promoted consistent punishment to fit the crime. Classicism expressed that individuals enjoy free will and make rational choices about whether they commit crime, outside factors are not to blame for this From this it can be devised that “the criminal commits it”. This will be further discussed through Rational Choice Theory.

Rational Choice Theory is based on the assumption that an individual will weigh up the potential positives and negatives before committing a crime, meaning that all individuals have the potential to become criminal, given the cost-benefit of a situation. Gul (2009) argued that if the perceived positives outweigh the negatives when committing a crime, any rational individual is capable of offending. However, if the benefits are outweighed risks, for example, long prison sentences, then crime is less likely to occur. 

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This implies that if punishment for crime is consistent, immediate and strict, individuals are less likely to commit. Rational Choice Theory suggests that criminals commit crime to benefit themselves, and each stage of crime involves rational choices. First they choose to prepare to commit said offence, they then choose to commit the act, lastly they choose how to (hopefully) escape without being caught. Rational Choice Theory indicates that criminals think before they commit, it is not an action thrust upon them but a calculated exercise where the benefits have been deemed to exceed risk. Therefore supports the statement made by Buckle that “the criminal commits it”.

Nonetheless, just as Positivism faced criticism, as does Classicism. Shoemaker suggests that by only concerning itself with the cost-benefit response of crime it fails to recognise outside social factors, such as inequality, that could impact on decision making. Furthermore, by implying that all choices are rational and free, it eliminates scenarios where crime is a necessity or forced upon someone. Rational Choice Theory and Classicism also suggests that everyone in a society has the same opportunities to avoid a criminal life. 

This ignores the concept that varying social classes have disparate opportunities and values accorded to them, this is evident through Positivism and the Chicago School. However, those who support Classicism and Rational Choice would argue that “the criminal commits it”, they still made a choice to deviate from the law. This means that even if outside factors were considered (which they aren’t through classicism), the offender still made the decision to commit. Highlighting that even with vast criticism for the perspective, it does explain “the criminal commits it”.

To conclude, when “society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it” is looked at separately, it can be argued that the statement is correct. Positivism and the Chicago School illustrate that it is the societal influences that cause crime to be a product of society. Classicism and Rational Choice Theory highlights that it is the individual’s choice to actually commit the crime. However, when the contention is focused on as a whole, it is open to criticism and dispute. 

A positivist perception of Buckle’s statement would argue that society has to be considered when crime is committed, as low socio-economic neighbourhoods experience greater crime rates than their richer counterparts. Therefore, although the individual commits the crime, they cannot be solely to blame. For example, those from low socio-economic neighbourhoods are more likely to join a gang. However, as already observed in this essay, this is a result of many societal influences, such as older residents teaching them this is the correct way to behave. 

Yet, Classicism would remove the concept of society being the problem and instead suggest that those who join a gang, or commit crime willing do so by rational choice. Nonetheless, this essay would argue, “society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it”. Society is clearly an influential factor on crime, and the crime is consequently committed by the criminal. However, in a modern society, it would be unrealistic to ignore the societics part in creating said criminal.     

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