Classical Theory and Its Effects on Criminal Justice Policy Essay

1436 Words Aug 12th, 2008 6 Pages
Classical Theory

Classical Theory and its Effects on Criminal Justice Policy

With the exception of probation, imprisonment has been the main form of punishment for serious offenders in the United States for over 200 years. Americans can be said to have invented modern incarceration as a means of criminal punishment. Although Europe provided precedents, theoretical justifications, and even architectural plans for imprisoning offenders, Americans developed the blueprints for the typical prisons of today and devised the disciplinary routines, types of sentences, and programs that prison systems of other countries subsequently adopted or modified (Rafter & Stanley 1999).
Many Americans tend to disagree about the purposes of prison.
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Beccaria believed in replacing the harsh physical punishments with confinement and having the length of confinement fit the particular crime. This Classical Theory approach to punishment was very appealing to the community leaders and quickly spread from state to state and into the prison systems. This was the first major step in prison reform as we know it today.
The Classical Theory focuses mainly on the individual and choices. Each individual makes decisions based on cost and benefit. Using Classical Theory, human behavior is explained in terms of the attempt to maximize pleasure and minimize pain (Williams & McShane 2004) and because the basis is for the concept of deterrence.
Within Classical Theory, the focus was on the law to protect the rights of individuals and society and its purpose was to deter criminal behavior. Classical law assumes it is the duty of the citizen to be moral, act responsibly, and weigh consequences of behavior before acting. This of course, supposes that all acts are rational, and each act committed is done as a result of free will.
When it comes to the issue of crime prevention, Beccaria did not believe that the best way to reduce crime was to increase laws or increase the severity of punishment, since doing so would merely create new crimes and “embolden men to commit the very wrongs it is supposed to prevent” (Becarria [1764] 1963).
Instead, he argued, laws and punishments should be as restrictive as necessary to deter those…