Cesare Beccaria is an Italian writer who completed his book On Crimes and Punishments, in 1764. The book appeared so radical that he initially opted to publish it anonymously to await the response of the state and the church. After a good reception, he later published the book under his name to the amazement of many who never believed that it was his work. Beccaria utilized the concept of the enlightenment to criminal justice and conceived that people are rational and act out of free will. He asserted that people do have a choice and usually make deliberate decisions about the behavior to engage in, especially after considering the effects and benefits of their action, in order to resolve how to advance. This idea of free will generates crime since people are allowed to take responsibilities of their actions.
In his principles of the classical school, Beccaria indicated that human beings exercise free will and are hedonic since they make an effort to maximize their pleasure but minimize pain. Fear is the main tool that controls human's behavior, particularly the fear of pain. To achieve this, Beccaria suggests that administering of punishment is a principal way to create fear among individuals. It is considered the most appropriate method in influencing human's will, thus helping to control behavior. Equally, in his book On Crimes and Punishments, he suggested that a code of criminal law or a universal system of punishment is essential to guide a response to crime. The criminal justice system is purposely to inhibit crime through a discouragement since the potential criminals will first consider the cost of punishment before they decide to commit any crime. This substantially helps minimize the crime rates (Dunne, 2001). On the contrary, criminals engage in crime in case they calculate the cost and find out that the benefits supersede the costs of their criminal acts. Beccaria notes that the fundamental strategy to prevent a crime is making punishment swift and directly linked to the crime. This study aims at researching the background information on Beccaria and the Idea of Free Will, crime and behavior, crimes and punishments, prevention of crime, effects of Beccaria’s Free Will and criminal law.
Background Information on Beccaria and the Idea of Free Will
Cesare Beccaria was born into an Aristocratic family on March 15, 1738, in Milan, Italy. He went through a Jesuit education system and attained his first degree in 1758. Beccaria married Teresa di Blasco in 1761. Beccaria together with two close friends Pietro and Alessandro Verri formed a society, which they named The Academy of Fists. This society was devoted towards fighting against the societal ills that included economic disorder, religious intolerance, bureaucratic petty dictatorship, and intellectual pedantry (Hagan, 2008). Beccaria was encouraged by the group and, as a result, started to read publications of the enlightened authors of England and France. This prompted him to begin writing short essays that his two friends assigned to him. In 1762, he made his first publication titled On Remedies for the Monetary Disorders of Milan.
Beccaria’s continued writing essays. One of his most appreciated essays was On Crimes and Punishments. It was published in 1764 with the aid of his friends from the Academy of Fists group. In the book, he wrote about the criminal justice system and indicated that individuals decide and act on a free will after considering the impacts of their moves. This topic was recommended by his friends who provided him with the information, expounded the subject matter, and helped to arrange his creation into a readable work. This assistance with information and content occurred because the treatise was on the criminal justice system, about which Beccaria had no knowledge or experience. On the contrary, his two friends, Alessandro and Peirto, had experience in the criminal justice as they worked in Milan as the protector of prisoners. They also worked on the history of torture and, thus, had the most influence on Beccaria’s work. They helped Beccaria in suggesting and developing of the idea of free will. For fear of the backlash from the church and political leaders, Beccaria first published the treatise anonymously. When the work was accepted by the government, he published it under his name. Many people did not believe that it was truly the work of the quiet and unknown man. However, his two friends came to his rescue and confirmed that the treatise was truly Beccaria’s own writings.
Beccaria became the father of classical theory, which he explained in three perspectives: (1) all people possess freewill. Beccaria believed that all people have power of making choices on their own volition and freewill, (2) rational manner in making decisions. He meant that all people rationally seek their personal satisfaction. It has a connection with the relationship between crimes and laws, of which, individuals will logically try to satisfy their best interest even if it means engaging in deviant acts that are against the law. The presence of a criminal law is to preserve the social contract and prevent or completely stop deviant acts. It is noted that there is rationality among individuals when they seek satisfaction of their needs. (3) Manipulability, the third aspect of Beccaria’s theory. He explained that human motive of rational self-interest is universally shared, thus making human actions predictable and controllable (Beccaria, 1995). In this case, the criminal justice system is used to regulate all deviant acts that people with freewill and rational thoughts may perform in their quest for a personal pleasure. This regulation is made easy since human behavior is predictable and controllable, as well as easy to manipulate when a right punishment or threat of undergoing the criminal justice system is used to control the free-willed and rational humans.
Crime and Behavior
There are different reasons as explained by the criminology concept why people engage in the criminal behavior. According to the theory suggested by Aristotle, poverty is the core cause of crime and revolution in a society from an environmental point of view. This indicates that the lack of adequate resources within the society may result into a scramble for the little available and can easily increase crime rates (Jones, 2006). It is also noted that availability of the opportunity to engage in a crime leads to a crime. For example, exposure of valuable items in an environment where the majority lack motivates theft. This points how powerful situations impact behavior.
The idea of freewill, as suggested by Beccaria in his treatise, results into a hedonistic decision. This states that individuals decide to engage in the criminal activities if it adds to their pleasure or when they believe the benefits of their wrong behavior outweigh the costs (Jones, 2006). Similarly, the failure of the social contract to discourage criminal behavior also encourages all kinds of behavior.This reasoning of freewill is explained by the classical theory of criminology. To control the criminal behaviour and to influence people’s behaviour, classical theorists, like Beccaria, argue that fair and proportionate punishments or penalties need to be adopted instead of the draconian types of punishments that most governments originally apply (Vold & Bernard, 1986).
There are also psychological explanations of criminal behaviour. For example, the use of traditional imprisonment, levying fines and court sanctions are founded on the operant learning models of behaviour for crime control. The operant learning models adopt the utilitarian theories that state that people always intend to maximize pleasure and minimize discomfort or pain. Equally, Skinner’s theories based on social psychology promote reinforcement and punishment for a good and bad behaviour respectively and are influential in controlling criminal activities (Hagan, 2008). This means that punishments, such as fines and jail sentences, are issued to discourage a particular behaviour. However, Skinner also recognized that issuing of punishment was principally unproductive in a behaviour modification and that a reinforcement option produced better results (as cited in Cullen & Wilcox, 2010). Other theorists considered that punishments produce results if applied correctly. It is noted that punishments and court sanctions against criminal behaviour are founded on the behavioural psychological principles.
Behaviour can also be influenced through rehabilitation, relearning or offering educational training to the violators of the law as promoted by the principles of cognitive behavioural and psychological models of criminality and reform. The method encourages an alternative functional reaction instead of the formally dysfunctional form of punishment. In most cases, the rehabilitation programs are seen to be effective to the drug and alcohol abusers and are rarely implemented in prisons. However, current prisons are used to change the perspective of the criminals and instead train them in the value addition skills that can help them earn their living after serving their jail sentences, without involving themselves in the criminal activities.
It is indicated environment that supports a crime leads to a crime. This idea is supported with the gun control acts introduced in many states around the world, including the U.S. It is argued that an individual carrying a gun is more likely to kill when provoked than without based on the opportunity enjoyed of having a gun. Many people with such a weapon may easily utilize it to gain pleasure even if it implies murdering for money or resources.
In addition, the change in behavior can be initiated first by discouraging violation of the most consecrated laws of humanity and the most significant code. If the government and the society can succeed in this, then it will be easier for people to respect laws perceived to be less important and arbitrary, which would, otherwise, be easily dishonored with impunity. These are laws that if strictly observed, they would stop personal liberty and the freewill concept. They will stop the idea that innocent persons undergo what only guilty people ought to suffer.
Crimes and Punishments
In the treatise On Crimes and Punishments, Beccaria stressed the necessity for having a criminal justice system, in addition to the government’s obligation to have laws and administer punishments. He believed in the social contract and the concept that freewill and rational people make choices to live mutually within a society rather than living alone. This means that whenever an individual decides to live in a society, he/she must choose to forfeit some personal liberties for the sake of others and in exchange for the comfort and safety in a society. The laws stipulated in a society are designed to be the framework that guides the behavior adopted in such a society and outlines the rules according to which people’s actions are prohibited and encouraged. In this case, the criminal laws suggested by Beccaria provide conditions to the free-willed and rational society.
Beccaria noted that there is a need to develop a criminal justice system. The following system is supposed to discourage offenders within the society and ensure that people’s rights are safeguarded against any form of harm from any individual or groups of people that have intentions to go against the social contract when seeking their personal liberties that were originally forfeited. Such harms infringe into the rights of others and their personal liberties to safety within the society. The treatise On Crimes and Punishments stipulates that punishment outlined in the criminal law helps to a larger extent to inhibit crimes. Moreover, Beccaria asserted that formulation of the criminal law system alone is not enough. The government and the society need to provide systems sufficient enough to defend the law against any form of private violation by individuals whose intentions are principally to seek their share without considering the right of others (Beccaria 1963, p. 12). This means that the criminal justice system helps enforce the law and ensures that individuals in the society strictly obey the social contract.
The amount of punishment given should be linked to the crime. According to Beccaria (1995), legislators need to define punishments for each crime that meets safety standards and not excessive based on the intensity of harm. The punishment must be capable of discouraging any violation of the law, owing to the fact that rational humans in a freewill society engage in a crime if the calculated amount of pleasure to be derived supersedes the cost of a punishment. For the law to have meaning and to prevent people from committing illegal acts, the cost of the administered punishments must exceed the amount of delight the individuals expect to receive from their prohibited actions.
Beccaria's criminological theory gives particular principles to guide the just governments to uphold the security of the society. Some of the mechanisms include an arrest of the offenders, court hearings to prove the crime committed, detention of the offenders, sending the guilty to prison, commitment of the death penalty based on the punishment stipulated by the criminal law, and adoption of the crime prevention strategies. These punishments can be sentenced, as suggested by Beccaria.
In his principle of punishment, Beccaria noted that effective punishments must be administered in a certain and prompt way by the courts once the suspect has been found guilty of the offence. This principle of certainty of a punishment has the power making a strong impression even if the punishment administered is moderate and will discourage the perpetrator or others from committing the same crime (Beccaria, 1963). The promptness of the punishment is done for the offender to link the punishment to the crime committed. According to Beccaria (1963), the more promptly and closely punishment follows after committing a crime, the more effective, just and useful it will be. The perpetrator will either avoid the repetition of the crime or stop other potential offenders who may want to exercise their freedom brought about by the freewill nature of the society from committing the same crime.
Beccaria also suggested a principle that the justice system should determine the amount of incarceration or punishment to be handed for each crime and that individual should also be punished for trying to commit a crime. For example, all the accomplices operating together to commit crime should be punished equally, taking into account the principle that the severer the crime committed is, the harsher the punishment should be. Beccaria further stated that crimes against individuals need to be corporal in nature, and crimes related to theft should be fines. In his treatise, he strongly opposed issuing the death penalty with a reason that a laborious loss of liberty when the guilty person is imprisoned is harsher than administering a quick death. In addition, the death penalty is a contradiction of the law since the same laws that are a manifestation of the public will do the same while punishing homicide by ordering a murder of the murderers in order to deter a further crime (Beccaria, 1963). He concluded that the death penalty; though, it is very cruel and excessive, was ineffective in reducing or punishing crime. It was unnecessary and ethically inappropriate for the state to take away the life of any person.
The book on crimes and punishments was a turning point for Milan Enlightenment because it generated the first ever arguments against the death penalty. His publication was the first complete work of penology, which advocated for reforms of the criminal law system to conform to the rational principles. In his condemnation of the death sentence, Beccaria looked at the philosophical theories of the social contract that condemns death and utility of the sentence (Cullen & Wilcox, 2010).
Beccaria considered that the government should try to prevent crimes before they occur instead of focusing on punishment after crimes has been committed. This would be achieved when effort are made to educate citizens on the effects of crime and reward the individuals' free-willed, good behavior in order to motivate all representatives of the society to embrace good behavior. Beccaria believed that it would bring better results and promote peace and happiness for all. Not all ideas represented in the book have been adopted. Though, Beccaria's concepts were extremely influential in reforming the European laws, as well as in establishing the U.S. Constitution and the American criminal justice system.
Beccaria’s Principles on the Criminal Justice System
In the treatise, Beccaria discussed the role courts play in a justice system. The courts are to ensure that victims obtain justice. The principles suggested by Beccaria (1963) in the criminological theory include:
- Legislators must set up laws to guide members of the society.
- Legislators lack the ability to judge individuals.
- Laws in the society must be easy and clear to understand by all representatives of the society without any need of interpretation in order to avoid ambiguity or different misleading interpretations that may arise from the free willed and rationalized society where members only seek their pleasure at the expense of others.
- Judges hearing criminal cases are not allowed to interpret the laws.
- The offenders are to be judged by their peers. The criminals should have right to decline particular juries from hearing their cases.
- There must not be any secret indictment by the government.
- The juries need to be impartial in seeking truth as well as being paid from the exchequer to avoid expecting money from criminals as it may compromises justice.
Beccaria suggested principles and rules that protect the rights of the offender after the arrest. These include:
- Permitting imprisonment before conviction based on the level of crime in case the offender is a threat to the society.
- Certainty and safety of the offender is required if a punishment is to be given.
- The laws of the society ought to prohibit suggestive and leading questions during trial.
- The right of the offender for defense and fair hearing must be held with certainty as long as the right does not delay administration of punishment.
In addition, Beccaria asserted in his book that oaths were not important because they do not change the perception of liars while they tell the truth in court. The criminals take oaths and go ahead to tell lies in their pursuit to defend themselves. He notes that judges have many examples that no oath ever changes any criminal to tell the truth (Beccaria, 1995). Another principle put forward indicate that individuals to be imprisoned before a trial, especially the harsh criminals, should spend less time in the trial but more time in serving their sentence if found guilty.
Torture of the offender to force a confession must be prohibited. Beccaria believed that the use of torture to force a confession makes an innocent person suffer undeserved punishment that is not yet proved. Similarly, weaker people are more likely to succumb to torture and confess in crimes if to compare with stronger people who have no remorse. For this reason, Beccaria suggested that confessions received as a result of torture should not be considered valid, owing to the fact that innocent individuals are likely to confess only to stop torture. Such an individual may implicate innocent people in his/her confessions just to evade torture. The confessions acquired with torture may also make a weak innocent person suffer punishment of conviction in court for crimes he\she has never committed and may, on the other hand, make a strong but guilty person capable of not confessing despite the torture be rewarded for committing a crime.
In his book, Beccaria also was the first to state that any suspect is presumed to be innocent until he/she is proven guilty. He asserted that no person can be condemned as criminal until he/she is found guilty in a court of law. This right and protection cannot be taken away by the society until the time it will be proved that the individual actually contravened the conditions stipulated in the law. This means that a punishment cannot be handed to any citizen whenever there is some doubt concerning his/her guilt. This concept of innocent until proven guilty has been adopted in most judicial systems around the world and is applied to protect the rights of the innocent citizens who may be falsely accused of any reason or as a result of malice. Equally, the idea of proof beyond a reasonable doubt suggested by Beccaria has been adopted by many countries. This, however, makes it difficult to prove certain cases of the crimes committed by seasoned criminals, due to the lack of adequate evidence that are to be introduced for the jury.
Simple Criminal Law
In his treatise On Crimes and Punishments, Beccaria suggested that the criminal justice system and criminal laws should be simple and substantially clear for everyone to understand. The importance of simplicity of the law is to make the citizens informed since a rational person may commit an act without full knowledge that such an act is prohibited. This is brought about by ambiguity in the law eliciting different interpretations (Beccaria, 1963). The writer noted that if people are educated and the number of those who understand and uphold the laws increases, the rate of crimes will equally decrease. In most cases, ignorance of the law and uncertainly of punishments attached to different crimes account for crimes usually committed within the society. Therefore, the criminal laws need to be clear, simple, and well known to the public in order to avoid unknowing violations.
Beccaria backed a legal system where judges are impartial and have little discretion to ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally. He criticized the death sentence, abuse of power by the state, and torture techniques to force innocent individuals to confess the crimes (Beccaria, 1995). In the judicial system, Beccaria's ideas were revolutionary and made his book an instant success, as well as gave birth to the classical school of criminology. The laws should be not only simple and clear but enlightened, logically drafted, as well as rational, especially the criminal laws. Passion should be given no room but reason when crafting the laws (Beccaria, 1995).
Once the legislation is set, the entire nation should come into full force to defend it and must not be intended to favor any individual or a particular class of people. All men within the society must respect and fear, as well as guard the law at all cost. This is because the fear of the judicial laws is salutary, but the fear of individuals can be a fatal source of crimes (Beccaria, 1963).
When crafting the criminal laws, a vital consideration that needs to be made is that those chosen to create the laws must be people who are "dispassionate student of human nature", as Beccaria called them. He considered that a number of challenges experienced today around the world occur due to the laws created by the biased and passionate individuals who have accidental and temporary needs (Beccaria, 1963). Instead, Beccaria stressed the significance of creating laws that elicit great happiness to the maximum number of people. To meet this standard of laws, Beccaria suggested that an educated and enlightened man without any personal passion should be commissioned to draft the laws for the entire society to get benefits. The laws need to be logical, enlightened, rational, and be able to benefit the greatest number of people in the community.
The criminal justice system is incomplete without setting up a rational system of punishment that is ethical and commensurate to the crimes. This is why Beccaria was opposed to the savage and arbitrary punishments that were administered during the time. He also considered that the state had the right and obligation to chastise individuals who threatened a harmonious existence when exercising their liberties, particularly in a free-willed society. In this regard, the state had only a right to administer prompt punishments, matching the crime for it to have meaning, and in most cases to punish whose costs exceed the pleasure that was to be received when that crime is committed. A harsh punishment beyond this level is considered fierce and excessive and ought not to be allowed (Beccaria, 1963). Therefore, the government can only punish to a level that will ensure safety and security of the society.