The age of Enlightenment refers to when a shift to mobilize the power of reason to do societal reformation and advance science and knowledge. There was a subsequent change in how criminology was understood and applied, and consequently, the ideas of crime and justice significantly changed. The changes are apparent in that before the Enlightenment, justice was often arbitrary and, in some situations, based on superstition. There was also a situation where the meted punishment did not fit the crime, such as the overuse of the death punishment. Consequently, during the period of Enlightenment, there was an attempt to change the ideas of justice and crying to ensure that criminal punishment would align more with the crime. There is a change to a focus on reforming criminals. Consequently, the period of Enlightenment opened the way for justice that was not simply arbitrary, based on superstition, and punishment started fitting the crime.
Some of the most foremost theorists in criminology are Beccaria and Lombroso. The ideas on the question of crime differ in several ways. The first such difference is apparent in that Beccaria ascertains that criminal activity is a freely chosen behavior. According to Beccaria, criminals commit crimes after making a rational calculation. Thus, Beccaria affirms that crime occurs because it pays to be a criminal. On the other hand, Lombroso argues that criminality is hereditary and was consequently not a product of rational choice or even a thought process. Lombroso’s entire idea has a basis on that criminality is due to a biological criminal tendency in what it termed as atavism.
The idea that Beccaria proposes is close to the modern conception of crime. The concept of justice in contemporary times relies on the idea that one is responsible for their actions. For example, there is an understanding that a person can only be punished for crimes if the person had “mens rea.” Consequently, Beccaria’s ideas are closer to the contemporary concept of crime and justice. On the other hand, Lombroso’s ideas contrast to the class lessons. The theory of atavism appears in contrast to the modern understanding of crime. Criminals are not so because of some genetic disorder. Environmental factors and choice have a much higher effect. For example, there is no specific gene that is responsible for the crime.
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Shaw and McKay develop the social disorganization theory. The two advanced the theory explaining that someone’s physical and social environment is the most important reason for their behavioral choices. Consequently, they place the environment at the center of criminal behavior. The theory the two proposed Can explain crime in Chicago in the 21st century. The example of Chicago, where there was a crime spike of homicides from 423 in 2014 to almost double the number in 2016, while an increase in non-fatal homicides by nearly 1000 to 3550 the same period shows the social disorganization theory. The turmoil in the city happened as relations between the police and the community, especially in the minority areas, dropped significantly. The social disorganization is apparent because the shootings only happened in specific places where there were reports of a police pullback when the crisis occurred.
There are various theories on the sociology of society and law. William Joseph Chambliss suggested one such modern approach. He developed the conflict theory that explains that in capitalist societies like America, the conflict between different classes is the fundamental driving force. Consequently, legislation specifically occurs to ameliorate such conflicts or two ensure the protection of elites.
On the other hand, Oliver Wendell Holmes advanced the argument that law develops as society evolves. Consequently, the life of the law is not logic but an experience. As the society changes, morality and political situation in a country as well as public policy ensure a need to change the law to fit the new circumstances consequently justice Holmes perceived the law is developing through many centuries through the evolution of our nation. Accordingly, the law is not contained only in axioms and to an immutable mathematical certainty.
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Justice Felix Frankfurter also developed the theory of law. Frankfurter explained that as the law developed, there was less need for the judiciary to interfere in the decisions of responsible makers of law and policy through the abstract discussion of rights in court cases. Thus, he viewed the law as developing to a point where the law was less about the debate on questions of common law to a point where there was adequate legislation to cover most aspects of the law. In this sense, the law becomes more defined and more apparent as society continually matures.
In the present time, the theory that explains the US legal system is the conflict theory. In American history, the passage and the enforcement of the law have naturally turned towards the protection of elites. For instance, the Constitution allowed slavery. After the Emancipation proclamation, the use of chain gangs for cheap labor and sharecropping with onerous became provisions became standard, which was slavery in all but name. The laws that have more considerable punishments for drugs minorities are likely to use, such as crack cocaine instead of powdered cocaine, further prove this point.
During Holme’s time on the bench, there were extraordinary changes in the law. During the period, the court was highly conservative in rulings. While it made some decisions that were liberal in nature, most of its findings had highly conservative, including the overturning of federal and state laws meant to protect workers. There is a similarity between the Supreme Court in Holmes’ time and presently. Not only is the court solidly conservative, but the court is also likely to have a significant impact both currently and, in the decades, to come.