The classical school of criminology and criminal law developed in England and Italy after Beccaria published his popular essay on crimes and punishments. This school has been called the “classical school of criminology” because it advanced the first systematic approach to thinking in the field of criminology. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin are called classical languages because they were the first to adequately communicate in modern abstract thinking. Therefore, Beccaria is called the father of the classical school of criminology. Later this school spread to other European countries and America. It is based on hedonistic psychology, which means that a people contros their behavior considering pleasure and pain, pleasure expected from the same action. It is assumed that a person has “free will” and makes his choice with reference to hedonistic calculations.
Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) published his essay in year 1764 when he was only 26 years old. He was influenced the French philosophers Rousseau, Montesquieu and the English philosopher John Locke. He argued that the purpose of punishment should not be to torment and cause suffering to a reasonable person, but to prevent the criminal from doing more harm to his fellow citizens and deter others from doing the same, and called for the abolition of death penalty. He argued that punishment should be commensurate with the crime, so that it is more effective and makes an indelible impression on human minds and least of all torments the body of the offender.
He advocated for punishment to be less arbitrary and harsh than before. In order for the punishment to be effective, it is enough that its pain slightly exceeds the benefit derived from the crime – anything more is tyrannical. Punishment must be proportionate to the gravity of the crime. In order to prevent crime, punishments need to be more deterrent and not necessarily effective, and cited that the death penalty has no deterrent effect as it cannot deter would-be criminals. The death penalty was carried out in the presence of spectators. For most viewers, the death penalty has become a spectacle, and for others the subject of sympathy, mixed with disgust. Therefore, a more deterrent punishment than the death penalty is needed to prevent crime.
According to the hedonistic doctrine, criminals are simply punished the state in the prescribed manner. The basic idea was that crime would be minimal if the fear of state agents was maximal.
Beccaria believed that punishments should be known to people in advance so that a would-be criminal can balance the pleasure and pain of a particular crime according to their “free will”. The principles that Beccaria recommended were:-
- All social action must be based on the utilitarian concept of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
- The purpose of punishment is to deter a person from committing a crime.
- The use of imprisonment should be increased
- Prevention of crime is more significant as compared to that of punishment.
- Crime should be considered as a harm to society.
Voltaire, a great thinker, sincerely supported Beccari, and as a result, the severity of criminal law in European countries was weakened. In some countries, the death penalty has been completely abolished.