Cesare Lombroso was the founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology. He rejected the established Classical School, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature and that rational choices were the foundation of behavior. Lombroso, using a scientific approach and concepts drawn from physiognomy, early eugenics, psychiatry, and Social Darwinism, argued that criminality was inherited, and that the “born criminal” could be identified by physical defects, which confirmed a criminal as “savage,” or “atavistic. While his particular identifying characteristics are no longer considered valid, the idea of factors that predispose certain individuals to commit crime continues to be foundational to work in criminology. Together with his emphasis on the scientific method, this revolutionary approach has earned Lombroso the title “father” of scientific criminology He was later forced to considerably alter his views after extensive study of the phenomenon of Eusapia Palladino, a famous spiritualist. He later wrote, “I am ashamed and grieved at having opposed with so much tenacity the possibility of the so-called spiritistic facts.
Cesare Lombroso was famous in the nineteenth century because he claimed to have discovered the cause of crime and wrote books. In these books, Lombroso claimed that anatomical investigations of the post mortem bodies of criminals revealed that they were physically different from normal people. He maintained that criminals have stigmata (signs), and that these stigmata consist of abnormal dimensions of the skull and jaw. Lombroso even claimed that different criminals have different physical characteristics which he could discern.
In time, and under the influence of his son-in-law, Guglielmo Ferrero, Lombroso included the view that social factors were also involved in the causation of crime and that all criminality is not inborn. “Born criminals” were thus viewed by in his earliest writings as a form of human sub-species. In his later writings, however, he began to regard them less as evolutionary throwbacks and more in terms of arrested development and degeneracy. He popularized the notion of a “born criminal” through biological determinism criminals have particular physiognomic attributes or deformities.
Physiognomy attempts to estimate character and personality traits from physical features of the face or the body. In Lombroso’s view, whereas most individuals evolve, the violent criminal had devolved, and therefore constituted a societal or evolutionary regression. He concentrated on a purported scientific methodology in order to identify criminal behavior and isolate individuals capable of the most violent types of crime. He advocated the study of individuals using measurements and statistical methods in compiling anthropological, social, and economic data.
With successive research and more thorough statistical analysis, he modified his theories. He continued to define atavistic stigmata, and in addition, he identified two other types of criminal: the insane criminal, and the “criminaloid. ” Although insane criminals bore some stigmata, they were not born criminals; rather they became criminal as a result “of an alteration of the brain, which completely upsets their moral nature. ” Among the ranks of insane criminals were kleptomaniacs and child molesters.
Criminaloids had none of the physical peculiarities of the born or insane criminal and became involved in crime later in life, and tended to commit less serious crimes. Criminaloids were further categorized as habitual criminals, who became so by contact with other criminals, the abuse of alcohol, or other “distressing circumstances. ” He was also an advocate for humane treatment of criminals, arguing for the removal of atavistic, born criminals from society for their own and society’s protection, for rehabilitation for those not born criminal, and against capital punishment.
His work was always hampered by his Social Darwinist assumptions. In particular, he held the pre-genetic conception of evolution as “progress” from “lower life forms” to “higher life forms” together with an assumption that the more “advanced” human traits would dispose their owners to living peacefully within a hierarchical, urbanized society far different from the conditions under which human beings evolved. In attempting to predict criminality by the shapes of the skulls and other physical features of criminals, he had in effect created a new pseudoscience of forensic phrenology.
While he was a pioneer of scientific criminology, and his work was one of the bases of the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century, his work is no longer considered as providing an adequate foundation for contemporary criminology. However, psychiatry and abnormal psychology have retained his idea of locating crime completely within the individual and utterly divorced from the surrounding social conditions and structures. Lombroso developed the concept of the “atavistic,” or born, criminal, based on anthropometric measurements.
Although the scientific validity of the concept has been questioned by other criminologists, Lombroso is still credited with turning attention from the legalistic study of crime to the scientific study of the criminal. This new scientific criminology valued the experimental method based on empirically discovered facts and their examination. The knowledge gained was to be achieved carefully, over time, through systematic observation and scientific analysis. In his later work, He was noted for advocating humane treatment of criminals and limitations on the use of the death penalty.
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