History of Punishment – Cesare Beccaria

Ways in which Cesare Beccaria’s work in Essays on Crimes and Punishment (1764) is still relevant to how offenders are treated in the criminal justice system today.

Cesare Beccaria was an Italian jurist, Philosopher, politician and criminologist. He was considered the as one of the greatest thinkers and the most talented jurist of the age of alignment. He is well remembered in his competency on matters in crimes and punishment which condemned death penalty and torture (Beccaria, Thomas, & Parzen, 2009).  He was also the founder of classical school dealing with criminology and promoted criminal justice.

Cesare had several contributions to Penology. Penology is also called Penal science is the division of criminology which is concerned with the practice and philosophy of society as an effort to repress criminal activities. It stands on the policy of inflicting punishment to an offender after wrongdoing (Marchese di Beccaria, 1819). It can be extended to cover other area such as probation, education and medical treatment which is aimed at the rehabilitation of the offenders.

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The modern penology dates back to the publication of Cesare’s pamphlet on Crimes and Punishment in the year 1764. The classical school which was created by Cesare views every crime to be a deliberate choice which is determined by a calculation of the pains of the act that was contemplated and the prospective pleasures. All criminal purpose would be overcome by provision of penalty for every crime committed so as to adequately overbalance all of its assumed advantages. Cesare view penalties such as death as unnecessary and thus unjust (Beccaria et al 2009).

On his contribution to modern corrections, Cesare proposed a number of influential and innovative principles; this stated that punishment has a deterrent and not a retributive function. He proposed that any crime should have a punishment that is proportionate to the crime committed. He claimed that it is not the severity of the crime but its certainty that will help achieve the preventive effect. He also proposed that all the procedures undertaken for criminal conviction should be held in public. Finally, he proposed that in order for a crime to be effective, it should be addressed promptly (Marchese di Beccaria, 1819).

There are several ways in which Cesare’s work is still applied in the present times. These ways include;

  • Drug offences are viewed as a public health problem and not a criminal problem as it was in the past. Drug cases have been clogging the prisons as over 61% of the inmates are mostly there for drug offences which has been increasing from 18% since 1980. This is doing nothing to help in the reduction of the drug problem. Some of the drug users when arrested are taken to rehabilitation centers so that they can reform. This has however not taken its roots well as most of the drug addicts are arrested and imprisoned for quite a long time (Fairchild&Dammer, 1993).
  • Criminal sentences have been changed. People are convicted as per the type of crime they have committed. The more serious the crime the more the years once is sentences and it keeps reducing as the intensity of the crime reduces(Schmalleger, 2009).
  • Cesare proposed that the severity of the crime will not be so effective in solving the crime but its certainty. Most crime cases were subjected to very harsh punishments such as death sentence, life imprisonment and much more. These sentences were put across without even being sure of the matter that was being dealt with. This led to cases where one could be put through harsh treatment because of a crime they have not committed only to find them innocent and find the true offender later(Schmalleger,2009).
  • Procedures taken for criminal conviction is nowadays held in public. People are allowed to be in a court of law and witness all criminal proceedings. This has taken roots in almost all parts of the word. The suspect is also allowed to be represented by a lawyer and thus an innocent person has a chance of finding justice through this process.
  • Cesare proposed that for a case to be effective it has to be handled promptly. In the past, we could see a convict staying in prison for months or even years before their case could be heard and judgment given. This is however not the case nowadays as most cases are handled as soon as possible. This is very beneficial in prevention of evidences in criminal activities from being tampered with. The more time is taken to handle a crime the more the chance is given for the evidence to be destroyed (Fairchild &Dammer, 1993).

It is very evident that Cesare Beccaria had a great impact to the criminal justice today as he was able to come up with so many proposals that have been implemented in the present judicial service.


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