The discipline of criminology has established itself in the developed world, and is now emerging as a field of immense interest in the developing and transitional nations. We are now seeing not only academic institutions and justice agencies, but also many professional societies of criminology engaging in the promotion of criminological knowledge and research around the globe. Pakistan, though lagging a bit behind, has joined the rank of such countries by introducing criminology as an integral part of academic curricula in the law-enforcement training institutes. It has also been included as an optional subject of 100 marks in syllabus for CSS. The following article is aimed at presenting some basic concepts of criminology for aspirants of competitive exams as well as the general readers.

Criminology is a branch of sociology, which traditionally examines human behaviour, interaction and organization. It is the interdisciplinary study of crime as both an individual and a social phenomenon, with research on the origins and forms of crime, its causes and consequences, and social and governmental reactions to it. In a broader sense, it is the study of crime from a social perspective, including examining who commits crimes, why they commit them, their impact and how to prevent them. Since its emergence in the late 1800s as part of a movement for prison reform, criminology has evolved into a multi-disciplinary effort to identify the root causes of crime and develop effective methods for preventing it, punishing its perpetrators and mitigating its effect on victims.


The term “criminology” has been defined by almost every author who has written a text in the field in his own way. The variegated content of criminology, as conceived by Lombroso, Ferri, Garofalo, Aschaffenburg, and other pioneers, has permitted the use of this term for the many subdivisions of the field. Textbooks generally refer to a mixture of data on science, law, public administration, and morality, and the commonplace dichotomy of “criminology” and “penology” has been with us at least since the days of Parmelee. In 1934, noted American criminologist Edwin Sutherland defined criminology in the following words:

“Criminology is the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking laws and of reacting toward the breaking of laws. … The objective of criminology is the development of a body of general and verified principles and of other types of knowledge regarding this process of law, crime, and treatment.”police_tape_PNG14

Howard Jones supplies a fairly complete and simple definition of criminology: “The science that studies the social phenomenon of crime, its causes and the measures which society directs against it.”

This definition makes a distinction between two parts:

1. This is further divided into two segments:

  1. A description of criminology and its context, i.e. the descriptive or phenomenological, phase in which the facts are determined such as they are;
  2. the causes, backgrounds, explanations and correlations found by criminal etiology. Criminal etiology (science of causes) finds causes in:

-man (criminal biology, psychology and psychiatry),

– the human environment (notably psychology),

-society (criminal sociology);

2. The reactions of society to crime. These are influenced and, if possible, coordinated by criminal policy.


As a field of study, criminology has a long, rich history and has changed a lot over the years. It began in Europe during the late 1700s when concerns arose over the cruelty, unfairness and inefficiency of the prison and criminal court system. Highlighting this early so-called classical school of criminology, several humanitarians such as Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria and British lawyer Sir Samuel Romilly sought to reform the legal and correctional systems rather than the causes of the crime itself. Their primary goals were to reduce the use of capital punishment, humanize prisons and compel judges to follow the principles of due process of law.Criminology

In the early 1800s, the first annual statistical reports on crime were published in France. Among the first to analyze these statistics, Belgian mathematician and sociologist Adolphe Quetelet discovered certain repeating patterns in them. These patterns included items such as the types of crimes committed, the number of people accused of crimes, how many of them were convicted, and the distribution of criminal offenders by age and gender. From his studies, Quetelet concluded that “there must be an order to those things which … are reproduced with astonishing constancy, and always in the same way.” Quetelet would later argue that societal factors were the root cause of criminal


Just as it is a sub-group of sociology, criminology itself has several sub-groups, including:

  1. Penology: the study of prisons and prison systems
  2. Biocriminology: the study of the biological basis of criminal behaviour
  3. Feminist criminology: the study of women and crime
  4. Criminalistics: the study of crime detection

Schools of thought

  1. Classical

Classical school of criminology founders were theorists on crime and punishment development. These people include writers like Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. Although torture was taking place all over the European continent, especially for confessions and testimonies, classical school believed torture to be wrong. According to the classic school of thought, crimes are committed through free will. People know what they are doing and should be punished. Those consequences should be strong enough to deter other people from the crime and should be harsher than the criminal gain. They did explain that the criminal justice system drastically needed to be modernized and improved. At that time, criminal justice included painful torture such as stretching, crushing and stabbing of the accused bodies. The classical school aimed to improve the system partly by limiting or eliminating the torture. It marked the beginning of great progress for the criminal justice system.

  1. Neo-classical

The Neo-classical school of thought followed the classic school and brought with it a few revisions. For one, this way of thinking suggests that people can be led by behaviour, which can be irrational. It also suggests that the world is imperfect and, therefore, there will always be mistakes. Self-defence is included in the neo-classical school of thought too. Famous neo-classical criminologists include Raymond Saleilles, author of ‘The Individualization of Punishment and his teacher Gabriel Tarde’.

  1. Positivist

Determinism is the belief that all actions are pre-established in time and that free will is only an illusion. It, along with the requirement of scientific evidence for criminal conviction, falls under the positivist school of thought. Positivists believe that all people are different, both intellectually and physically. Punishment within the positivist school of thought would not be determined by crime, rather by person. Also, correction, treatment and rehabilitation are theoretically possible within all criminals and those that cannot be fixed should be killed. Lombroso is credited with being the father of criminology and a positivist.crime-scene-investigation-1

  1. Chicago

In the 1920s, Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess presented their Chicago school of thought through the University of Chicago. The study related criminology to sociology and provided research on concentric zones, or zones in transition where people tend to be more criminally active than others. Through the addition of Henry McKay and Clifford Shaw’s research specifically on juvenile delinquents, a new social ecology study was developed. The Chicago school of thought determined that crimes tend to be taught by older criminals whom people may be associated with, either personally or professionally.

Contemporary criminology

Contemporary criminology includes a similar hedonistic theory that people can deter emotions and actions according to incentive manipulation. Thus, criminology today includes categorizing criminal’s motives whether they are instrumental or expressive. Instrumental motivation means the person has more incentive, outside the act itself, for committing a crime. There is a tangible benefit. For example, contract killers have the added incentive of money. Gang members may commit crimes for the initiation incentive. When there are obvious signs of instrumental motivation, there are generally harsher punishments for crimes as there is proof behind premeditation. Expressive motivation is different than instrumental as it includes acts done out of emotion. The crime itself is the desired result. Common feelings for expressive motivation crimes include anger or rage, fear, jealousy and passion. They are frequently committed in the heat of the moment as a means of overpowering the source of the criminal’s frustration.

Criminology combines social action data with criminal activity to understand motive and determine appropriate consequences. As such, criminology is necessary for the proper development and execution of criminal justice systems. From the case development to long after the verdict, criminologists are responsible for understanding why criminals do what they do. Through this information people will be safer, better understood and justly punished for crimes. The ultimate motive behind criminology though, is the prevention of crime.

How it works?

In essence, criminologists examine every conceivable aspect of deviant behaviour. That includes the impacts of crime on individual victims and their families, society at large, and even criminals themselves. Some of the specific areas that criminology covers include:

  • Frequency of crimes
  • Location of crimes
  • Causes of crimes
  • Types of crimes
  • Social and individual consequences of crimes
  • Social reactions to crime
  • Individual reactions to crime
  • Governmental reactions to crime

Criminologists conduct research and analyze data to help understand, deter and prevent crime. They also develop theories based on the research they conduct to help translate data into action. Some criminologists also evaluate, develop and implement criminal justice policies and procedures.

Criminology vs. Criminal Justice

Criminal justice and criminology are certainly related fields, but they are not identical. Criminal justice focuses on the application of systems that address crime. That includes law-enforcement, the judicial system, and the corrections and prison systems. Criminology involves more research, while criminal justice requires more real-world application.

The writer is an Advocate High Court.

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