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Positivists School/The Italian School

Mrs. Glory Nirmala.k Mar 20 2012

The Positivist School has attempted to find scientific objectivity for the measurement and quantification of criminal behavior. As thescientific method became the major paradigm in the search for all knowledge, the Classical School's social philosophy was replaced by the quest for scientific laws that would be discovered by experts. It is divided into Biological, Psychological and Social.

  • Biological positivism

If Charles Darwin's Theory of evolution was scientific as applied to animals, the same approach should be applied to "man" as an "animal".

  • Physical Characteristics

Historically, medicine became interested in the problem of crime, producing studies of physiognomy and the science ofphrenology which linked attributes of the mind to the shape of the brain as reveal through the skull. These theories were popular because society and any failures of its government were not the causes of crime. The problem lay in the propensities of individual offenders who were biologically distinguishable from law-abiding citizens. This theme was amplified by the Italian School and through the writings of Cesare Lombroso (see L'Uomo DelinquenteThe Criminal Man and Anthropological criminology) which identified physical characteristics associated with degeneracy demonstrating that criminals were atavistic throwbacks to an earlier evolutionary form. Charles Goring (1913) failed to corroborate the characteristics but did find criminals shorter, lighter and less intelligent, i.e. he found criminality to be "normal" rather than "pathological" (cf the work of Hooton found evidence of biological inferiority). William Sheldon identified three basic body or somatotypes (i.e. endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs), and introduced a scale to measure where each individual was placed. He concluded that delinquents tended to mesomorphy. Modern research might link physical size and athleticism and aggression because physically stronger people have the capacity to use violence with less chance of being hurt in any retaliation. Otherwise, such early research is no longer considered valid. The development of genetics has produced another potential inherent cause of criminality, with chromosome and other genetic factors variously identified as significant to select heredity rather than environment as the cause of crime (see: nature versus nurture). However, the evidence from family, twin, and adoption studies shows no conclusive empirical evidence to prefer either cause.

With the advance of behavioral sciences, the monogenetic explanation of human conduct lost its validity and a new trend to adopt an eclectic view about the genesis of crime gradually developed. By the nineteenth century, certain French doctors were successful in establishing that it was neither ‘free will’ of the offender nor his innate depravity which actuated him to commit crime but the real cause of criminality lay in anthropological features of the criminal. Some phrenologists also tried to demonstrate the organic functioning of brain and enthusiastically established a co-relationship between criminality and the structure and functioning of brain. This led to the emergence of the positive school of criminology.

The main exponents of this school were three eminent Italian criminologists namely: Cesare Lombroso, Raffaele Garofalo andEnrico Ferri. It is for this reason that this school is also called the Italian School of Criminology.

  • Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909)

The first attempt to understand the personality of offenders in physical terms was made by Lombroso of the Italian School of criminological thought, who is regarded as the originator of modern criminology. He was a doctor and a specialist in psychiatry. He worked in military for sometime handling the mentally afflicted soldiers but later he was associated with the University of Turin. His first published work was L’Umo Delequente which meant “the Criminal Man” (1876). He was the first to employ scientific methods in explaining criminal behavior and shifted the emphasis from crime to criminal.

Lombroso adopted an objective and empirical approach to the study of criminals through his anthropological experiments. After an intensive study of physical characteristics of his patients and later on of criminals, he came to a definite conclusion that criminals were physically inferior in the standard of growth and therefore, developed a tendency for inferior acts. He further generalized that criminals are less sensitive to pain and therefore they have little regard for the sufferings of others. Thus through his biological and anthropological researches on criminals Lombroso justified the involvement of Darwin’s theory of biological determinism in criminal behavior. He classified criminals into three main categories:

1. The Atavists or Hereditary Criminals Lombroso also termed them as born-criminals. In his opinion born-criminals were of a distinct type who could not refrain from indulging in criminality and environment had no relevance whatsoever to the crimes committed by the Atavists. He, therefore, considered these criminals as incorrigibles, i.e., beyond reformation. In his view, the criminal reflected a reversion to an early and more primitive being that was both mentally and physically inferior. He resembled those of apes and had ape-like characteristics. Lombroso’s theory used physical characteristics as indicators of criminality. He enumerated as many as sixteen physical abnormalities of a criminal some of which were peculiar size and shape of head, eye, enlarged jaw and cheek bones, fleshy lips, abnormal teeth, long or flat chin, retreating forehead, dark skin, twisted nose and so on. Though he moderated his theory of physical anomaly in later years but his emphasis throughout his work was on human physical traits which also included biology, psychology and environment. He revised his theory of atavism in 1906 and held that only one-third of criminals were born criminals and not all the criminals. Finally, he conceded that his theory of atavism was ill-founded and held that they were in fact occasional criminals.

Enrico Ferri subsequently challenged Lombroso’s theory of atavism and demonstrated that it was erroneous to think that criminals were incorrigibles. He believed that just as non-criminals could commit crimes if placed in conducive circumstances so also the criminals could refrain from criminality in healthy surroundings.

Insane Criminals: The second category of criminals according to Lombroso consisted of insane criminals who resorted to criminality on account of certain mental depravity or disorder.

Criminoids: The third category of criminals, according to him, was those of criminoids who were physical criminal type and had a tendency to commit crime in order to overcome their inferiority in order to meet the needs of survival.

Lombroso was the first criminologist who made an attempt to understand the personality of offenders in physical terms. He employed scientific methods in explaining criminal behavior and shifted the emphasis from crime to criminal. His theory was that criminals were physically different from normal persons and possessed few physical characteristics of inferior animal world. The contribution of Lombroso to the development of the science of criminology may briefly be summed up in the following points:

1. Lombroso laid consistent emphasis over the individual personality of the criminal in the incidence of crime. This view gained favour in subsequent years and modern criminological measures are devised to attain the aim of individualization in the treatment of criminals. It has been rightly commented that the sociologists’ emphasis on the external factors, psychologists on the internal factors, while Lombroso held that both had a common denominator__ the “individual”.

2. While analyzing causes of crime, Lombroso laid greater emphasis on the biological nature of human behavior and thus indirectly drew attention of criminologists to the impact of environment on crime causation.

3. At a later stage Lombroso himself was convinced about the futility of his theory of atavism and therefore extended his theory of determinism to social as well as economic situations of criminals. Thus he was positive in method and objective in approach which subsequently paved way to formulation of multiple-causation theory of crime by the propounders of sociological school of criminology.

  • Criticism on Lombroso’s Theory

Gabriel de Tarde, the eminent French criminologist and social psychologist, criticized Lombroso’s theory of criminal behavior, and offered a social explanation of crime. He asserted that criminal behavior is the result of a learning process, therefore, any speculation regarding direct relationship between physical appearance and criminal propensities of criminals would mean overlooking the real cause of criminality. He also denounced the proposition of phrenologists who tried to establish a correlation between the skull, the brain and the social behavior of a person.

By the time of Lombroso’s demise, in 1909, it became abundantly clear that his theories were over-implication of facts and rather naïve, hence the notion that criminal is physically atavistic-type lost all credence. The assumption that there is some nexus between atavism and criminal behavior had no scientific basis. The modern positivism in criminology has developed its own systematic views in which there is little scope for Lombroso’s atavism. Some modern writers even speak of it as “Lombrosian myth” in criminology.

Criticizing  Lombroisian views, Prof. Sutherland observed that by shifting attention from crime as a social phenomenon to crime as an individual phenomenon, Lombroso delayed for fifty years the work which was in progress at the time of its origin and in addition, made no lasting contribution of his own.

Be that as it may, it hardly needs to be reiterated that contribution of Lombroso to the development of criminology is by no means less significant. Commenting on this point Donald Taft observed, “the importance of Lombroso’s work lies in the great influence it had upon criminology and also upon penal practice”. The importance of Lombroso’s work lies in its scientific methodology and his rejection of free-will theory.

  • Enrico Ferri (1856-1928)

Another chief exponent of the positive school of criminology was Enrico Ferri. He challenged Lombrosian view of criminality. Through his scholarly researches, Ferri proved that mere biological reasons were not enough to account for criminality. He firmly believed that other factors such as emotional reaction, social infirmity or geographical conditions also play a vital role in determining criminal tendencies in men. It is for this reason that he is sometimes called the founder of ‘criminal sociology’.

The major contribution of Ferri to the field of criminology is his “Law of Criminal Saturation”. This theory presupposes that the crime is the synthetic product of three main factors:

  1. Physical or geographical;
  2. Anthropological; and
  3. Psychological or social.

Thus Ferri emphasized that criminal behavior is an outcome of a variety of factors having their combined effect on the individual. According to him social change, which is inevitable in a dynamic society, results in disharmony, conflict and cultural variations. As a result of this, social disorganization takes place and a traditional pattern of social control mechanism totally breaks down. In the wake of such rapid social changes, the incidence of crime is bound to increase tremendously. The heterogeneity of social conditions destroys the congenial social relationship, creating a social vacuum which proves to be a fertile ground for criminality.

Many critics, however, opposed Ferri’s law of criminal saturation stating that it is nothing more than a statement that the law of cause and effect equally applies to criminal behavior as well.

Ferri emphasized that a criminal should be treated as a product of the conditions which played his life. Therefore, the basic purpose of crime prevention programme should be to remove conditions making for crime.

Ferri worked out a five-fold classification of criminals, namely:

  1. Born criminals;
  2. Occasional criminals
  3. Passionate criminals
  4. Insane criminal and
  5. Habitual criminals.

He suggested an intensive programme of crime prevention and recommended a series of measures for treatment of offenders. He asserted that punishment could be one of the possible methods of reforming the criminal. He favored indeterminate sentence keeping in view the possible chances of inmate’s re-adjustment in the community.

In his ‘Penal Project” Ferri denied moral responsibility and denounced punishment for retribution and moral culpability.

Raffaele Garofalo (1852-1934)

Raffaele Garofalo was one of the three main exponents of positive school of criminology. Born in Naples in 1852, Garafalo started his career as a Magistrate in Italian courts and rose to the position of Minister of Justice in 1903. He stressed the need for a closer study of the circumstances and living condition of criminals. He firmly believed that a criminal is a creature of his own environment. He was the only positivist who had varied experience as an eminent jurist, a senator and a professor of criminal law. He, therefore, approached the problem of crime and criminals in an altogether different manner than those of his contemporaries. Rejecting the classical theory of free-will as a cause of crime, Garofalo defined crime as an act which offends the sentiments of pity and probity possessed by an average person and which are injurious to the society. He emphasized that lack of pity generates crimes against person while lack of probity leads to crimes against property. As to the classification of criminals, he rejected Ferri’s classification and placed offenders into four main categories, namely:

  1. Murders whom he called “endemic” criminals;
  2. Violent criminals who are affected by environmental influences such as prejudices of honour, politics and religion

3. Criminals lacking in sentiment of probity; and

4. Lascivious or lustful criminals who commit crimes against sex and chastity.

As a member of the Italian ‘judiciary’ Garofalo was well acquainted with the then existing criminal law and procedure in the administration of criminal justice and recommended death, imprisonment for life or transportation and reparation as three modes of punishment for criminals. Out of his experience as a Judge and having witnessed total failure of correctional measures in France, Garofalo was not very optimistic about reformation of offenders. He therefore, strongly pleaded for elimination of habitual offenders who were incapable of social adaptation as a measure of social defense.

Gabriel Tarde (1843-94)

Gabriel Tarde was a critic of positive school of criminology. He asserted that influence of social environment was most emphatic on the criminal behaviour out that law of insertion and imitation was responsible for the incidence of crime. The members of society are prone to imitate the behaviour of their associates. Likewise, the subordinate or inferior members have a tendency to imitate the ways of their superiors just as the children imitate their parents and elder members of the family. Consequently, as regards crimes, the beginners have a tendency to imitate the acts of habitual criminals and thus they lend into criminality. The effect of imitation is still worse on youngsters who are prone to fall an easy prey to criminality. Particularly, the impact of movie, cinema and television is so great on teenagers that it perverts their mind and actions which eventually makes them delinquents. Thus there is considerable truth in Tarde’s assertion that, “crime, like other social phenomenon starts as a fashion and becomes a custom”. He classified criminals into urban and rural types and expressed a view that crimes in urban areas are far more serious in nature than those of rural places. Despite the fact that the views of Tarde were logical and nearer to truth, they were discarded as over simplification of facts.

Major Contributions of Positive School of Criminology

It would be seen that the positive school of criminology emerged essentially out of the reaction against earlier classical and neo-classical theories. The merits of this school were:

1. The advocates of this school completely discarded the theories of omnipotence of spirit and free will on the ground that they were hypothetical and irrational. Alternatively, they attributed criminality to anthropological, physical and social environment.

2. The greatest contribution of positive school to the development of criminal science lies in the fact that the attention of criminologists was drawn for the first time towards the individual, that is, the personality of criminal rather than his act (crime) or punishment. This certainly paved way for the modern penologists to formulate a criminal policy embodying the principle of individualization as a method and reformation. Thus positivists introduced the methodology and logic of natural science in the field of criminology.

3. With the predominance of positive school, the emphasis was shifted from penology to criminology and the objects of punishment were radically changed in as much as retributory methods were abandoned. Criminals were now to be treated rather than punished. Protection of society from criminals was to be the primary object which could be achieved by utilizing reformatory methods for different classes of criminals in varying degrees. It is in this context that positive school is said to have given birth to modern sociological or clinical school which regards criminal as a by-product of his conditions and experience of life.

4. The positivists suggested elimination of only those criminals who did not respond favorably to extra-institutional methods. The exponents of this school accepted that there could be extenuating circumstances under which an individual might be forced to commit crime. Therefore, besides looking to the crime strictly from the legal standpoint, the judicial authorities should not lose sight of the circumstantial conditions of the accused while determining his guilt and awarding punishment.

Main Distinctions between Classical School and Positive School

The positive school differed from the classical school of criminology in the following manner:

1. Defining Crime: Classical school defined crime in legal terms. Where as, the positive school rejected legal definition of crime and preferred sociological definition.

2. Explanation of Crime: Classical school placed reliance on free-will theory as an explanation of crime.  Positive school explained crime in terms of biological determination.

3. Nature of Punishment: Classical school believed in deterrent and definite punishment for each offence and equal punishment for all criminals committing the same offence. Positive school advocated treatment methods for criminals instead of punishment and held that criminal be punished not according to gravity of his crime but according to the circumstances associated with it.

4. The Focus of the School: Classical school focused greater attention on crime, namely, the act rather than the criminal. Whereas, the positivists laid greater emphasis on personality of the offender rather than his criminal act.

5. The Founders of the School: The main exponents of classical school were Beccaria and Bentham. The main exponents of positive school were Lombroso, Ferri and Garofalo.

6. Contribution to the Field: The classical school was an 18th century dogma which attempted to reform the criminal justice system in order to protect criminals against arbitrary discretion of judges. The positive school was a 19th century doctrine which emphasized on scientific method of study and shifted emphasis from crime to criminal and from retribution to corrective methods of treatment.


Clinical School of Criminology

More recently, with the development of human psychology, there is greater emphasis on the study of emotional aspect of human nature. This branch of knowledge has enabled modern criminologists to understand the criminal behavior of offenders in its proper perspective. Prof. Gillin, therefore, rightly remarked that the theory of modern clinical school on the side of criminologists presupposes offender as a product of his biological inheritance conditioned in his development by experiences of life to which he has been exposed from infancy up to the time of the commission of crime. Thus, clinical school takes into account variety of factors. It further suggests that the criminals who do not respond favorably to correctional methods must be punished with imprisonment or transportation for life while those who are merely victims of social conditions should be subjected to correctional methods such as probation, parole, reformatories, open-air camps etc. Thus, briefly speaking, individualization has become the cardinal principle of penal policy in modern penology. The main theme of clinical school is that personality of man is a combination of internal and external factors; therefore, punishment should depend on personality of the accused. This is known as correctional trend of reformation through individualization.

Sociological School of Criminology

The Modern Criminology

In recent years, there seems to have been a transformation of criminological views regarding somewhat skeptical question of criminal accountability. Modern critics attack the traditional criminological view on the ground that their search for characteristic differences between the class of criminals and the class of non-criminals rests upon erroneous assumption. This false dichotomy has been based on a misconceived characterization of criminals as ‘criminal type’. As Michael Phillipson aptly observes that to take crime out of its social context and to try to explain it as a product of physical

characteristics or mental deficiencies is a myth. He summarizes his criticism of traditional

criminology by suggesting that it contains four false assumptions, namely,

  1. That there are universal causes of crime;
    1. That the human population can be divided into two groups, criminals and non-criminals;
    2. That crime can  be located by the study of individual criminals; and
    3. That the official statics are indices of trends in crime.

The proponents of modern criminology attempt to explain criminality in terms of social conflict. Engels (1971) pointed out that resentment among the deprived class of society due to their exploitation and demoralization was one of the reasons for growing criminality. Therefore, there was need to change the whole of the social and economic structure of society. Thus modern criminology attributes societal reasons for general criminality and suggests a pragmatic approach to the resolution of the problem.

The advocates of modern criminology firmly believe that distinction between criminals and non-criminals is the direct outcome of a mistaken notion of labelling certain individual offenders as ‘criminal types’. Modern criminologists prefer to identify the criminal with a particular social type who has been a victim of well known inequalities between social classes, private wealth, private property, social power, and life chances. Thus there is nothing like ‘criminal type’ as suggested by traditional criminologists. The modern criminologists have succeeded in substituting the traditional belief regarding crime causation by social deviance as a cause of criminal behavior.

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