Introduction to Criminology Theory


Crime has become one of the greatest problems facing humanity in the contemporary generation. Although criminology is historical, its higher rates are observed in modern society compared to the early centuries. Many people associate the increasing crime rates with technological advancements and other forms of progression in modern society. Moreover, various societies have come up with solutions to crime in their communities. Classical criminology and biological positivism are some of the criminology perspectives that have made it easy to understand the multi-faceted concept of crime. While classical criminology propounds that a crime results from an individual’s free and rational decisions, biological positivism states that an individual’s genetic disposition made by their characteristics and behaviors causes crime. The two criminology perspectives have been criticized by various scholars in the social sciences. Although classical criminology and biological positivism exhaustively explain the causes and solutions to crime, the former theory is more convincing.

Classical Criminology

The majority of crimes are not conducted under coercion or any form of frustration caused by society to the criminal. Classical criminology theorists believe that the wrongdoings in society are a result of an individual’s free will to conduct a crime (Genschow and Vehlow, 2021). The theory was propounded during the classical period. The main proponents of the classical criminology theory include John Howard, Jeremy Bentham, Samuel Romilly, and Cesare Beccaria (Burke, 2018). The main characteristic of classical criminology theorists was the interest in the crime itself and not the perpetrator (Genschow and Vehlow, 2021). The majority of theorists believed in the natural law that all human beings are equal, and it is only a deed that distinguishes criminals from non-criminals (Burke, 2018). The classical criminology theory suggests that an individual’s free will and to some extent, social factors cause crime which can be solved through a proportional punishment.

Causes of Crime

Classical criminology theorists believed that crime results from an individual free will to commit it. For instance, crimes like robbery are self-initiated, since the perpetrators know the implications of the offense. Moreover, according to the theorists, a crime is caused by an individual rational decision (Burke, 2018). Many perpetrators strategically orchestrate an offense, and it is always evident that a crime does not occur as an unplanned activity. Bank robbery and cold-blood murders are often effectively planned. Furthermore, the classical criminology school of thought suggests that crime can also be caused by social conditions surrounding the perpetrators. Therefore, the possibility of an individual being involved in a criminal offense is influenced by the society surrounding them.

Many individuals are born and grow up in societies that are poor and which are prejudiced by others. The social conditions suggested by Jeremy Bentham and John Howard include poverty and being born in a society where crime is normal (Causer, Finn, and Schofield, 2022). Moreover, stereotyping a specific community as a criminal is likely to increase the crime rate in such a society. For instance, many Black Americans are associated with crime, and the majority of criminal offenses are conducted by them (Oliver and Armstrong, 2018). Although crime is caused by an individual free will and rational decisions, social conditions significantly contribute to crime.

Solutions to Crime

The classists believed that crime is a hedonistic behavior since the perpetrators seek pleasure at the expense of other people’s pain. Consequently, deterrence and punishment can only prevent people from such behaviors (Merhi and Ahluwalia, 2019). The development of the court and penitentiary system was influenced by classical criminology theorists (Burke, 2018). Therefore, any society creates sanctions against any criminal offense (Merhi and Ahluwalia, 2019). However, the sanctions must be proportional to their preceding crime. For instance, it is fair to imprison a murderer for a lifetime sentence and imprison a mere thief for a period of fewer than two years. Cesare Beccaria is one of the classists who believed that the level of punishment should be based on the damage caused (Burke, 2018). Moreover, the classists were against the unfair use of justice systems and inappropriate punishment. Therefore, crimes can only be solved by clear, legal, and equal rules in society based on an act itself.

Biological Positivism

The biological positivism proponents argue that criminals are born criminals due to genetic transfer from their parents. The major proponent of this theory is Cesare Lombroso who concentrated on the bodies of perpetrators to deduce whether the criminals were physically unique from non-criminals (Beech and Fisher, 2018). In 1876, Mr. Lombroso developed a classic study, ‘The Criminal Man’, where he stated that criminals have an abnormality in their genes (Stelzer, 2021). According to him, the genetic abnormality caused related facial features like large jaws and sloping foreheads (Beech and Fisher, 2018). Unlike the classical criminology theorists, the biological positivists focused on the biological factors causing crime.

Causes of Crime

Scientifically human beings inherit genes from their parents and would have physical and social features that are directly linked to their parents. The genes transferred from parents to children carry information that is replicated in the genes of children (Stelzer, 2021). Cesare Lombroso believed that crime was among the genetic information transferred from parents to children. Consequently, children would become criminals by being born to criminal parents (Stelzer, 2021). The children born to a criminal would develop physical features that favor their criminal activities. Although the biological cause of crime is associated with Lombroso, his work was predeceased by Franz Joseph Gall’s phrenology and Etienne-Jean Georget’s study of “homicidal monomania” (Beech and Fisher, 2018). Therefore, biological positivism disregards an individual’s free will to commit a crime as suggested by the classists.

Solutions to Crime

The biological positivists were opposed to the incarceration and the penitentiary system as suggested by the classical criminology theorists. Therefore, it is useless to incarcerate the criminals since they conducted the crime not of free will, but under conditions that are beyond their control (Zemel, Einalt, and Ronel, 2018). The positivists believed that crime could only be prevented from a psychological perspective (Zemel, Einalt, and Ronel, 2018). Consequently, psychological measures such as behavioral therapy and cognitive therapy are considered effective mechanisms of crime prevention. Therefore, biological positivism is more focused on an individual’s behavior than the cause of crime. Unlike the classists, the positivist focused on the psychological perspective of crime prevention.


Crime as a wrongful action or omission is can be caused by the social or biological factors according to the two theories of criminology: classical and biological positivism. However, the two theories differ in various dimensions. While the classical theory is focused on social and individual free will as causes of crime, biological positivism suggests that genetic inheritance is the cause of crime. Moreover, the two theories differ in terms of the solution to crime. The classists believed in the penitentiary system while the biological positivists believed in the psychological measures in preventing crime. Therefore, the classical theorists are more convincing since crime is often associated with social factors and an individual’s free will to conduct criminal activity.

Reference List

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LawBirdie. "Introduction to Criminology Theory." July 18, 2023.