Influential Minds: 6 Masters of Criminology

Drawing on philosophy, sociology, psychology and anthropology, criminologists examine the origins, nature and control of criminal behavior.

Over the centuries, the field of criminology has been influenced by some of the most gifted minds the world has ever known. Here’s six of the most gifted contributors –


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Jeremy Bentham

An 18th Century British philosopher, social reformer and criminal jurist, Jeremy Bentham is credited as the founder of modern utilitarianism; a belief that actions are inherently “right” if such actions benefit a majority of society.

Bentham made significant contributions to the advancement of criminology, including his efforts to decriminalize homosexual acts, as well as abolish slavery, the death penalty and all forms of physical punishment.

He believed that all people are entitled to a plethora of individual legal rights, but he was opposed to the idea of “natural rights” or so-called God-given rights. Bentham favored a strong separation of church and state, which is evident in his position against “natural law.” Bentham was also an early advocate of animal rights.

Bentham was strongly in favor of education “for all” and, upon his death, he requested that his body be dissected for educational purposes. He further requested that after the dissection, that his body be permanently preserved and placed on display. His body is currently on display at University College London.

Cesare Beccaria

An Italian criminologist, philosopher, and politician, Cesare Beccaria is widely considered to be one of the greatest thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment (1685-1815).  His most famous work, the renowned treatise – On Crimes and Punishments ­–  condemns torture and the death penalty, and is regarded as the founding work in field of penology.

Many historians attribute Beccaria as the founding father of modern criminal law, and as the founder of criminal justice. One of Beccaria’s primary ideologies was the belief that any punishment must be close in time to the criminal action, in order to maximize the deterrence value of the punishment.  To that end, Beccaria believed that if the crime and punishment occur close in time, then the offender’s mind will make a clear connection between “crime” and the resultant  “punishment.”

It is believed that Beccaria’s work and ideas had a significant influence on America’s Founding Fathers.

Alexandre Lacassagne

Born in the mid-1800’s, Alexandre Lacassagne was a French criminologist and physician. He was the founder of his own school of criminology, which was based in Lyon, France.

Lacassagne was a founding member in the disciplines of criminal anthropology and medical jurisprudence. He was influential in the field of toxicology, with a particular expertise on analyzing bullet markings and blood spatter patterns.

In addition to his primary pursuits, Lacassagne had a strong interest in the fields of sociology and psychology, and their relationship to a person’s criminal propensity. He believed that each individual had a unique biological predisposition. And that such disposition coupled with a person’s social environment were the primary factors in understanding the motivation behind an individual’s criminal behavior.

Lacassagne was a proponent of the death penalty, believing that some criminals could not be redeemed.


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Hans Eysenck

A 20th Century, German-born British psychologist, Hans Eysenck spent his career investigating, analyzing and understanding the varying types of  human personalities and individual intelligence. As a professor of psychology at the renowned Kings College London, Eysenck was instrumental in the advancement  of humane treatment for those who suffered from mental illness.

Eysenck’s work in developing personality types was so groundbreaking that  – at the time of his death – he had become the most frequently cited psychologist in peer-reviewed science journals. His theories concerning one’s personality and intelligence, led to many advancements in understanding  what types of people commit crimes.

In his lifetime, Eysenck published approximately 80 books and over 1,600 journal articles.

Enrico Ferri

Italian criminologist and socialist Enrico Ferri studied at the Italian School of Criminology, and focused his studies on the relationship between criminal behavior and a person’s socio-economic background. Ferri’s book – Criminal Sociology –  served as the basis for the development of Argentina’s penal code in 1921.

Ferri rejected the prevailing, contemporary idea that a person’s biological characteristics played an important role in the motivations behind criminal behavior. Rather, he believed that a person’s psychological state had a much more direct impact on criminal impulses.

He believed that a criminal’s psychological makeup was essentially comprised of that person’s inability to reject criminal tendencies and temptations. And that criminals had an ill-balanced impulsiveness that was akin to that of a child.

Robert D. Hare

Canadian criminal psychologist Robert D. Hare has spent a lifetime interacting with, and assessing, psychopaths. Prior to earning his PhD, Hare spent some time working for the British Columbia prison system, a field in which he had no prior experience. Hare often spoke about his early days working at the prisons. Specifically, he recalled how the prisoners took advantage of his inexperience by manipulating him.

After earning his Ph.D., Hare became a professor at the University of British Columbia, where he would spend the next 30-plus years teaching and studying psychopaths. Hare was often baffled as to why some prisoners would not change their behavior despite the strict punishments they would often receive. He concluded that these criminals were psychopaths, and that they are not deterred by prison or any form of punishment.

Hare was often taken aback at how charming and personable psychopaths were, even though they have – and are capable of – committing vicious acts of violence. After spending almost 50 years studying them, Hare is renowned as a foremost expert in understanding the mind of the psychopath.

These criminologists, who span centuries and continents, are truly fascinating individuals. Do you know of any other highly influential pioneers in the field of criminology that belong on this list?


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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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