Classical and Positivist Influence on Contemporary American Criminal Justice

Beccarios classical arguments in criminology and Lombrosos positivist arguments are still noticeable in the American criminal justice system today. The classical school views men as rational individuals endowed with free will and crime an intentional act that must be punished accordingly.

The classical proportional punishment doctrine enjoyed popularity before the 1900s, but was tempered down over the years due to increasing acceptance of the positivist argument which argues that the behavior of criminals can be explained through science and that certain social and biological characteristics push people toward criminality. Progressive views regarding human rights and social inequality have also made the purely classical view obsolete. In contemporary American society, the main ideological foundation of criminal law is still the classical school but positivist influence has gained ground in the sentencing process and the policy framework of the corrections system.

Parole and indeterminate sentence are reforms inspired by positivist thought, encouraging criminals  rehabilitation and restoration to society. Reforms on sentencing have been largely initiated by states because state governments are responsible for the prison system. Mental health organizations are also guided by the positivist doctrine the same goes for juvenile justice. While states have predominantly ventured on rehabilitative justice than proportional punishment, they vary because such policy changes bear heavy financial burden.


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