1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Criminology

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CRIMINOLOGY, the name given to a new branch of social science, devoted to the discussion of the genesis of crime (q.v.), which has received much attention in recent years. The expression is one of modern coinage, and originated with the speculative theories first advanced by the school of sociologists which had the Italian savant, Professor Lombroso, at its head. He discovered or was supposed to have discovered a criminal type, the “instinctive” or “born” criminal, a creature who had come into the world predestined to evil deeds, and who could be surely recognized by certain stigmata, certain facial, physical, even moral birthmarks, the possession of which, presumably ineradicable, foredoomed him to the commission of crime. Dr Lombroso, in his ingenious work L’Uomo delinquente, found many attentive and appreciative, not to say bigoted followers. Large numbers of dissentients exist, however, and the conclusions of the Italian school have been warmly contested and on very plausible grounds. If the doctrines be fully accepted the whole theory of free-will breaks down, and we are faced with the paradox that we have no right to punish an irresponsible being who is impelled to crime by congenital causes, entirely beyond his control. The “instinctive” criminal, under this reasoning, must be classed with the lunatic whom we cannot justly, and practically never do, punish. There are other points on which proof of the existence of the criminal type fails absolutely. The whole theory illustrates a modern phase of psychological doctrine, and the subject has exercised such a potent effect on modern thought that the claims and pretensions of the Lombroso school must be examined and disposed of.

The alleged discovery of the “born-criminal” as a separate and distinct genus of the human species was first published by Dr Lombroso in 1876 as the result of long continued investigation and examination of a number of imprisoned criminals. The personality of this human monster was to be recognized by certain inherent moral and physical traits, not all displayed by the same individual but generally appearing in conjunction and then constituting the type. These traits have been defined as follows:—various brain and cerebral anomalies; receding foreheads; massive jaws, prognathous chins; skulls without symmetry; ears long, large and projecting (the ear ad ansa); noses rectilinear, wrinkles strongly marked, even in the young and in both sexes, hair abundant on the head, scanty on the cheeks and chin; eyes feline, fixed, cold, glassy, ferocious; bad repellent faces. Much stress is laid upon the physiognomy, and it is said that it is independent of nationality; two natives of the same country do not so nearly resemble each other as two criminals of different countries. Other peculiarities are:—great width of the extended arms (l’envergure of the French), extraordinary ape-like agility; left-handedness as well as ambi-dexterism; obtuse sense of smell, taste and sometimes of hearing, although the eyesight is superior to that of normal people. “In general,” to quote Lombroso, “the born criminal has projecting ears, thick hair and thin beard, projecting frontal eminences, enormous jaws, a square and protruding chin, large cheek bones and frequent gesticulation.” So much for the anatomical and physiological peculiarities of the criminal. There remain the psychological or mental characteristics, so far as they have been observed. Moral insensibility is attributed to him, a dull conscience that never pricks and a general freedom from remorse. He is said to be generally lacking in intelligence, hence his stupidity, the want of proper precautions, both before and after an offence, which leads so often to his detection and capture. His vanity is strongly marked and shown in the pride taken in infamous achievements rather than personal appearance.

No sooner was this new theory made public than the very existence of the supposed type was questioned and more evidence demanded. A French savant declared that Lombroso’s portraits were very similar to the photographs of his friends. Save for the dirt, the recklessness, the weariness and the misery so often seen on it, the face of the criminal does not differ from that of an honest man’s. It was pointed out that if certain traits denoted the criminal, the converse should be seen in the honest man. A pertinent objection was that the deductions had been made from insufficient premises. The criminologists had worked upon a comparatively small number of criminals, and yet made their discoveries applicable to the whole class. The facts were collected from too small an area and no definite conclusions could be based upon them. Moreover, the criminologists were by no means unanimous. They differed amongst themselves and often contradicted one another as to the characteristics exhibited.

The controversy was long maintained. Many eminent persons have been arrayed on either side. In Italy Lombroso was supported by Colajanni, Ferri, Garofalo; in France by J. A. Lacassagne. In Germany Lombroso has found few followers; Dr Naëcke of Hubertusburg near Leipzig, one of the most eminent of German alienists, declined to admit there was any special animal type. Van Hamel of Amsterdam gives only a qualified approval. In England it stands generally condemned, because it gives no importance to circumstance and passing temptation, or to domestic or social environment, as affecting the causation of crime. Dr Nicholson of Broadmoor has said that “if the criminal is such by predestination, heredity or accidental flaws or anomalies in brain or physical structure, he is such for good and all; no cure is possible, all the plans and processes for his betterment, education, moral training and disciplinary treatment are nugatory and vain.” No weight can then be attached to evil example, or unfavourable social surroundings, in moulding and forming character, particularly during the more plastic periods of childhood and youth.

The pertinent question remains, has the study and development of criminology served any useful purpose? Little perhaps can come of it in its restricted sense, but it has taken a wider meaning and embraces larger researches. It has inquired into the sources and causes of crime, it has collected criminal statistics and deduced valuable lessons from them, it has sought and obtained guidance in the best methods of prevention, repression, and forms of procedure. The champions of law and order have been greatly aided by the criminologist in carrying on the continual combat with crime, and in dealing with the most complicated of social phenomena. The new science has, in fact, by accumulating a number of curious details, in recording the psychology, the secret desires, the springs of the criminal’s nefarious actions, his corrigibility or the reverse, “prepared the way to his sociological explanation” (Tarde). Thanks to the labours of the criminologist we are moving steadily forward to a future improved treatment of the criminal, and may thus arrive at the increased morality and greater safety of society. Very appreciable advance has been made in the increased attention paid to juvenile and adult crime, the acceptance of the theory, now well established, that there is an especially criminal age, a period when the moral fibre is weaker and more yielding to temptation to crime, when happily human nature is more malleable and susceptible to improvement and reform.

The study of criminology has, however, gone far to satisfy us that the true genesis of crime is not to be sought in the anatomical anomalies of individuals, or in the fact that there are people who under “any social conditions whatever and of any nationality at no matter what epoch, would have undoubtedly become murderers and thieves.” On the contrary it may be safely assumed that many such would have done no wrong if they had, e.g., been born rich, had been free from the pressing needs that drove them into crime, and had escaped the evil influences of their surroundings. The criminologists have strengthened the hands of administrators, have emphasized the paramount importance of child-rescue and judicious direction of adults, have held the balance between penal methods, advocating the moralizing effect of open-air labour as opposed to prolonged isolation, and have insisted upon the desirability of indefinite detention for all who have obstinately determined to wage perpetual war against society by the persistent perpetration of crime.

Authorities.—See A. Weingart, Kriminaltaktik, ein Handbuch für das Untersuchen von Verbrechen (Leipzig, 1904); F. H. Wines, Punishment and Reformation (New York, 1895); C. Perrier, Les Criminels (Paris, 1905); G. Macé, Femmes criminelles (Paris, 1904); E. Carpenter, Prisons, Police and Punishment (1905); R. R. Rentoul, Proposed Sterilization of certain Mental and Physical Degenerates (1904); R. Sommer, Kriminalpsychologie und strafrechtliche Psychopathologie auf naturwissenschaftlicher Grundlage (Leipzig, 1904); F. Kitzinger, Die internationale kriminalistische Vereinigung (1905); Reports of Committee on the best mode of giving efficiency to Secondary Punishments (1831–1832); Reports of the House of Commons Committee of 1853, of the royal commission of 1884, of the departmental committee of 1895, and the annual reports of H. M. inspectors for Great Britain and Ireland. (A. G.)