Q & A from the Book on Criminology
Cesare Lombroso pioneered anthropological criminology. He developed the ‘born theory’ of criminology with its central thesis is the idea of atavism, conceived after studying several anthropometric measurements (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). He believed that criminals were savage reproductions of rodents and early man, and were, therefore, not part of the human species. The criminals had atavistic traits that identified them. They included dark skin, extra-long limbs, abnormal teeth, strange eyes, asymmetrical face, extended jaw bone, ears that were either too big or too small and a beak nose (Panzarella & Vona, 2006, p.63). Lombroso believed that any person who had five or more of such characteristics was a born criminal.
Cesare Beccaria developed the classical school of criminology that was later refined by Jeremy Bentham. The theory states that people have a rational mind and free will to act. Therefore, criminals decide rationally to commit crimes. The primary determinant of their choice to commit crimes is evaluating the benefits and costs of the consequences of their actions. When the benefits outweigh the costs they commit the crime. It is caused by the fact that humans prefer pleasure over pain (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). The classical theorists believed that swift punishment for the actions of criminals has the greatest impact of deterring crime as the aim of punishment is to prevent the commission of offenses and not retribution. They also advocated that punishment should be proportionate to the offense. The theorists also advocated for the codification of laws, respect of human rights, and following the due process of the law during trials (Panzarella & Vona, 2006).
The classical theory advocated by Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham is more relevant today than Lombroso’s one. It has led to the codification of criminal laws (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). On the other hand, the anthropological theory of Cesare Lombroso is deceptive as it stereotypes criminals. Moreover, the idea of a born criminal is misleading as no person is a criminal unless they commit a crime.
The police body camera policy initiative became widespread in the U.S. in 2014 after the national outrage regarding police use of excessive and deadly force, while handling criminal suspects. After the shooting of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, President Obama in his speech December 2014 advocated for reimbursing police departments half of the amount they spent on buying the body cameras. In the initiative, police officers wear body cameras used for video recordings to document their interactions with the public and to collect evidence at crime scenes. The initiative promotes police and citizen accountability as the camera’s location is at the front of the police officers’ shirts, therefore, providing a first-person perspective.
Cities, such as San Diego, Colorado Springs, and Washington D.C. have already implemented the initiative. Other police departments in towns, such as New York and Las Vegas are apprehensive about applying the policy. They claim that before agreeing to the initiative, police contracts should be amended to include the policy as it creates an alteration in police officers’ working conditions. They are also worried that victims of crimes, including domestic violence, might refuse to report an offense if they are filmed. However, most civil organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have advocated for the application of the policy as long as the safety needs of both the police and the public are taken into consideration (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). It also advocates for a limit on the application of the initiative and state that some matters should not be subject to public surveillance as they can negatively affect the privacy of people.
Oliver Wendell Holmes belonged to the legal realism school of jurisprudence. He posited that legal rules are a result of an active process of self-governance. He was against legal formalism, which supported the idea that law and society were orderly (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). Instead, Holmes believed that law and society were in a state of uncertainty with laws made from the results-oriented decisions of judges. William Chambliss in his article ‘A sociological analysis of the law of vagrancy’ stated that the society influenced the laws made. He mainly proved that some societal settings influenced criminal laws. He gave the example of how the English society following the consequences of the decline of labor supply and pressure on wages initiated the enactment of legislation on vagrancy that limited labor competition (Panzarella & Vona, 2006).
Felix Frankfurter believed that the function of the law was to protect society, and one of the ways of doing it was to protect the individual rights of citizens. He also advocated for the practice of judicial restraint by courts (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). Courts of law could not interpret the Constitution, the primary legislation of the land, in a way that would impose sharp limits on the legislature that the society had elected. In my opinion, the law is not aimed at the discretion of judges as postulated by Wendell Holmes. A law remains law as long as a legal authority recognized by the society enacted it. A law may be influenced by society but only at a minor level. Its function is to protect the society and ensure that there is a feeling of peace and order among its members.
William Westley conducted his research on policing methods at the street level. According to him, the public and the police forces are divided as the police perceives the public to be hostile. The police rarely interact with the public as they view them as a threat. Therefore, the police avoid the streets and isolate themselves in secrecy for self-protection (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). Critics have pointed out that Westley’s study misleads by stating that all encounters between the police and the citizens are always hostile. He also oversimplified police relations with the public. Robert Fogelson, on his part, concentrated on studying the management level techniques of the police. He posited that the lower rank police officers’ duties included cleaning streets, distributing supplies to the poor, and attempting to deal with the crime (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). They performed all their duties, following the hidden goal of making citizens, who are voters, happy. Happy citizens would re-elect their political ward bosses, and the police officers jobs would then be guaranteed.
Herman Goldstein in his study on ‘policing a free society’ examined policing at the political level where he devised the problem-solving approach. The method entails the detection and analyzing of a particular offense by both the police and the community so that to develop response strategies to the offense (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). Before composing the problem-solving approach, Goldstein had observed that most police administrators devoted most of their time and attention to political concerns in the misguided belief that the standard policing strategies that were in place were adequate in addressing the crime and disorder problems affecting the public. With the new problem-solving approach, Goldstein believed the police would stop working for the political class and would instead focus on eliminating crime with the help of the community (Panzarella & Vona, 2006).
Police studies should mostly concentrate on the street level as it is the basis of the problem due to the fact that most crimes occur in the streets. However, the studies should be conducted in an objective manner, if they can offer effective recommendations.
Prisons are used as a means of punishing perpetrators of crimes. They have a retributive aspect as the criminals are made to face the full force of the law and to bear responsibility for the crimes they have committed. Another aim of incarceration is to rehabilitate the offenders. Most prisons in the U.S. have rehabilitation centers that offer such services to inmates (Panzarella & Vona, 2006). They provide prisoners with programs essential to change them into respected members of society. Prisons are also meant to deter the commission of crimes. On the aspect of preventing crimes, prisons can be considered effective as once a person is in jail, he/she is unable to commit the offense again. They also act to deter other individuals from committing similar crimes. After observing a criminal being imprisoned, people tend to avoid committing the same offenses (Panzarella & Vona, 2006).
However, regarding offering justice, prisons are not an adequate means of punishment. Considering the fact that a prisoner is locked away for crimes he has committed, punishments for some crimes, such as murder, can never be said to offer justice to victims. The victims’ families will always mourn the lost lives of their loved ones and no prison term would compensate for their loss. Moreover, some prison sentences and punishments are sometimes less than what the criminals deserve. It can be explained by the fact that the criminals agree to a plea bargain with the prosecutor and receive a lighter sentence. Upon the completion of a jail term, prisoners released to the society where they tend to commit the same crimes again. The U.S. has high recidivism rates of prisoners (Panzarella & Vona, 2006, p.284). Consequently, the victims of such criminals will believe that the prison sentence was not adequate in providing justice as the criminal is free again with the opportunity to commit more crimes.