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Introduction to critical criminology
Introduction to critical criminology

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Classical school of criminology

The emergence of criminological thinking is often traced to eighteenth-century criminal law reformers, such as Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham, and John Howard who began to question the legal constructions of crime. These early scholars were concerned with the legal protections of both the rights of society and those of the individual. Such principles are now considered part of the classical school of criminology. They form the foundations on which many contemporary criminal justice policies were founded and include the following notions:

  • human beings have free will and are rational actors
  • human beings have certain inalienable rights
  • there is a social contract between citizens and the state.

The idea of a social contract is a key feature of the classical school and includes the notion that transgressions that breach the social contract are seen by society as ‘crimes’ (Williams and McShane, 1999). Accordingly, the punishment of individuals is justified as a deterrent from criminal behaviour and to preserve the social contract. Within the classical school of criminology, crime is seen as a moral transgression against society.