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Application of the Positive School Perspective to Criminology

The field of criminology is historically traced back to the mid-eighteenth century. In the wake of criminology in Europe, classical perspective founders Bentham and Beccaria developed distinct perspectives on crime and punishment, treating crime as a dilemma confined within criminal laws. The classical school of thought and perspectives on criminology thrived on the idea that the aftermaths of a crime were more important to understanding the dynamics of a crime than the motivation to commit a crime. The classical school of thought thrived until the beginning of the nineteenth century when Lombroso, Garofolo, and Ferri introduced the positive school perspective to deconstruct crime. In the latter argument, crime was assessed as an outcome linked to the offender in that committing a crime had some psychological impetus that might not have been understood well by classical theorists. The founders of the positive school perspective on criminology argued for the assessment of criminology from a scientific standpoint, claiming that natural crime is an offense to the moral sentiments of communal probity and pity. The positive school has been widely embraced across states to deconstruct crime and used as the basis for setting the legal framework for dealing with various crimes. This analysis seeks to determine the consistency of the Dangerous Offender designation in Canada with a positive perspective on criminology.

The Positive School of Criminology

Lombroso, Garofolo, and Ferri introduced the positive perspective in the nineteenth century. The positive perspective deviated from the classical notion of criminality which confined crime within the criminal law limits. The positive perspective embraced crime as a natural act whose onset is linked to psychological and scientific processes (Canals, 1960). Lombroso and co-theorists argued that a crime and a criminal are two interlinked entities because a criminal commits the crime. The theorists suggested that the concept of crime be assessed from a scientific foundation to give insights into the factors that trigger individuals to commit a crime. The positive perspective rests on the notion that internal and external factors interplay to trigger criminal behavior. The positive perspective borrowed much from the sociological perspectives on crime planting the triggers of crime within the psychological and scientific structure of the criminal. Similar to the sociological perspective, positivism calls for assessing an offender’s body build, social and family background, community of residence, personality, and intelligence.

The internal factors define the individual. These factors include traits such as intelligence, while external factors zero in on the social framework of interaction, such as friends, community, and family. In essence, positivism links crime to human behavior hence, proposes that legal systems assess the etiology of a crime to understanding human behavior and its likelihood of triggering a crime (Jeffery, 1960). Since the positive perspective links crime to the criminal, it objects to the idea of designing punishment to befit the seriousness of the crime. Rather, the positive perspective proposes that legal systems design a punishment weight that resonates with the factors that triggered an individual to commit the crime. The perspective alludes that different individuals commit crimes for different reasons, two individuals may commit robbery in the same manner, but the reasons for the crime differ. Therefore, individuals should be punished for a crime and separated from society to keep society safe. However, the weight of the treatment and punishment should be equal to the causes of the crime rather than the seriousness of the crime.

Application of the Positive Perspective to Dangerous Offender Designation in Canada

The Canadian DO is not consistent with the positive school of criminology. The positive school of criminology emphasizes the importance of assessing crime from the human behavior standpoint rather than the legal system perspective. From the positive perspective, a crime is analyzed in relation to the behavior that triggered the individual to commit it (Canals, 1960; Jeffery, 1960). In the Canadian DO designation, a criminal is punished based on the crime and the seriousness of the crime committed. For instance, on the application for designating one as a dangerous offender, the court must have determined that the offense committed is a serious personal injury offense in which the offender threatens the mental and physical wellbeingwellbeing, safety and life of other individuals. A dangerous offender is considered an individual who poses serious physical threats and harm to other individuals through attempted murder, actual murder, or sexual assault. By categorizing certain crimes as dangerous offenses, this provision already eliminates the notion of behavioral characteristics and invests in the gravity of the crime. This provision seeks to punish the criminal based on the gravity of the crime and the consequences rather than the triggers of the crime. The provision emphasizes the impact this repetitive behavior inflicts on other people, such as a threat to personal safety, interference with physical and personal wellbeingwellbeing, and threat to life.

Paragraph a(ii) further provides that one is considered a dangerous offender if they exhibit an aggressive and repetitive behavioral pattern which establishes similarities between previous and current crimes with the offender showing indifference towards committing this crime. This subsection of section 753 partly borrows from the positive perspective but detaches itself when setting the punishment for the offense. Subsection a(iii) establishes that one is designated a dangerous offender if they exhibit any behavior that links to the crime for which they have been reprimanded, is brutal and shows no signs of improvements in the future if the individual is subject to normal behavioral restraint standards. The central theme in these clauses the seriousness and brutality of the crime rather than the root cause of the crime. The sentencing of the dangerous offender entirely detaches from the positive school. In the sentencing, the provision declares that if the court successfully designates an offender as a dangerous offender, then the court shall detain the offender in penitentiary indeterminately. The sentencing does not give a leeway for lenience based on the reason for committing a crime as would be in the case of the positive school perspective where an offender would be sentenced for a specified period and certain interventions implemented to correct the triggers to the crime.


The classical, sociological, and positive schools of criminology present weighty arguments for and against crimes and punishments for these crimes. The positive school of thoughts bring in unique ideologies which support the integration of scientific and psychological knowledge into assessing and setting punishment for a crime. Despite the in-depth evaluation and strong viewpoints these schools present, none of them has come up with a distinct definition of a crime to warrant the punishment of a crime or behavior proposed in both classical and positive schools. An evaluation of the Canadian designated dangerous offender provision establishes a strong connection with the classical school of thought. The definition and terms of designating one as a dangerous offender focus on 5the seriousness of the crime as opposed to the positive perspective which proposes for the treatment of a behavior and designing of a punishment based on the cause of the crime.


Canals, J. M. (1960). Classicism, Positivism and Social Defense. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/Source%201%20Classicism%20Positivism%20and%20Social%20Defense%20(1).pdf

Jeffery, C. R. (1960). The Historical Development of Criminology. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/Source%202%20The%20Historical%20Development%20of%20Criminology.pdf


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