Perspective On Criminal Justice

On Crimes and Punishment

Cesare Beccaria`s essay ‘On Crimes and Punishment' proposes the principles of penal parsimony which are derived from an interpretation of the social contract that is precise. The composition marked the high point of the Milan enlightenment as some of the modern arguments against the death penalty were advanced. He considered the death penalty as being advanced by a nation against its citizens. He quips that "it appears quite absurd to him that laws, which are normal expressions of the will of the public and which detest homicide and further punish it, commit murder themselves, and commit public assassination in a bid to dissuade citizens from assassination (Beccaria 1764 pg. 7).” The essay is also considered to be the first ever full-scale article tackling criminal reform and went further to suggest that the criminal justice system should always be in conformance with the criminal law system (Wolfgand, 1996).

Beccaria argues that because punishment is nothing more than a necessary evil that has no intrinsic value, it's using should be limited to preventative functions to the smallest extent possible (Beccaria, 1764 pg. 2). The book provides a critique of contemporary European systems of severe punishment radically, and that was highly necessary for the English environment which for a long time had been experiencing an increase in the number of capital offenses that reached the statute books. In a dramatical representation of his justification for punishment, in a rather passionate way, Beccaria presents a mixture of contractarian thinking and proto-utilitarian thoughts inceptively to state the necessity of the penal theory in the pursuit of the welfare of different individuals in the society in a way that was direct.


Beccaria also says that torture is both barbaric and cruel and a violation of the principle that no one should ever be punished unless they are proven guilty by courts of law. If one is found guilty, they then should be subjected to a punishment which the law ordains as such making torture useless (Beccaria 1764 pg.6).

The criminal philosophy advanced by Beccaria, therefore, tries to cut down the penal institution`s powers. Beccaria`s work instigated a rebellion against the Milanese penal system`s political dominance, whose juridical functions had long validated its power. Beccaria appears to combat the jurist’s political hegemony and goes ahead and removes the intellectual foundations of the practice of criminal law. His book was the first full-scale work tackling criminal reform with a suggestion of the need for conformance of criminal justice with principles of rationality.

The attacks on prevailing justifications of punishment by Beccaria were combined with an attack on the usual contemporary practices. At that time, there were great brutalities waged o offenders in the name of punishing them; limbs were scorched with boiling sulphurs, flesh torn with pincers that were red hot and bodies dismembered and even burned. These kinds of inflictions would come about from penal principles which would demand the state`s vengeful retaliation. The sovereign authorities overwhelming power would be glorified by the excesses in violations. Beccaria reacted against this combined theory. He judged it as containing little than just slow tortures and premeditated pomp. According to Beccaria there could be no possible justifications for such violent extremes. The convictions of the II Caffe group are reflected in this book. The group had sought to bring about reform through enlightenment discourse.

The idea by Beccaria idea that societies need to strive towards sharing the greatest happiness to the most people possible emphasized a proportioning of social pleasure and pain that was both mundane and calculative. That could provide a basis that is scientific for the graduated scale of punishment, applicable quickly and certainly. In addition to the use of this idea, Beccaria further provides a vision of civil organizations that is contractarian. He posits that it is necessary that there should be equality of all people before the law and consequently all citizens should possess natural rights. The criteria for punishment were such that, in the instance of deterring, compassionate human nature, it would be necessary to respect all those found guilty and those who innocently witnessed their punishment.

Beccaria`s assault of the traditional concepts made him very popular. His fundamental principles were that deterrence should be the end of punishment, which would require a separation of the ideas of sin from crime and measuring punishments value in terms of the harm it does to the society and further considering it relatively to prevention of offences that are similar in the future (Beccaria 1764 pg. 10). By the 1760s deterrence grew to be the primary justification theoretically for applying punishment in England.

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  • Beccaria, C., 1764. On crimes and punishments (p. 39).
  • Sharpe, J.A., 1990. Judicial punishment in England (p. 40). London: Faber & Faber.
  • Wolfgang, M.E (1996) "Preface" to Beccaria C. Of crime and Punishment, New York: Marilio Publishers.

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