What is Criminology all about? Here’s a Simple Explanation

Criminology, a branch of sociology, refers to the scientific study of crime as a social phenomenon, of criminals, and of penal treatment. According to Edwin Sutherland and Donald Cressey, “Criminology is a body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking of laws, and of reaction toward the breaking of laws”. It systematically studies the various aspects of a crime, including the causes and prevention, through the perspectives of various disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, biology, psychiatry, economics and statistics. The research to obtain knowledge about crime and related perspectives is based on understanding, explanation, prediction, prevention, and criminal justice policy.


What does a criminologist do?

A criminologist is someone who works in the field of criminology. The duties of a criminologist are aimed at analyzing and understanding various aspects related to crimes, by putting different social sciences and their applications into use. They are sometimes employed to analyze hard data collected from crime scenes, through research and keen observation. They are often also employed in crime scenes, in order to understand the nature of crime from on-scene observation, or to collect data or to interview a suspect who could provide information. They also create the profile of suspects, including social, psychological and biological information related to them

Schools of Criminology

There have been different opinions and theories regarding crimes, criminals, laws and punishment in the field of criminology. Many of them, can be brought collectively, under four different schools of thought, that explain similarities and differences among them with respect to different factors that affect a crime. The four schools of thought in criminology are:

  • Preclassical school: The school of thought that emerged in the 17th and 18th century in Europe, which said that crime and criminal were possessed by some supernatural powers.
  • Classical school: The concept that emerged in the 18th It favoured humanitarian form of punishment and was against cruelty. One major concept under this school is that of ‘Free Will’, which suggests that people can differentiate between right and wrong and that these people commit a crime according to their own free will. The classical school talks about several principles such as:
    • Rationality
    • Hedonism
    • Punishment
    • Human Right
  • Positivist school: The positivist school of criminology emerged around the 19th century and emphasized on the scientific study of the root causes of crime, the behaviour of criminals and other various internal and external factors which is responsible for being criminal. The three main causes for being a criminal, according to this school are:
    • Biological Factor
    • Sociological Factor
    • Psychological Factor

However, various thinkers under this school of thought often posed conflicting ideas and thoughts on those put forward by the school.

  • Neoclassical school: The school that was developed as a compromise between classical and positivist schools and focused on the nature of the crime ore than the individual. The supporters of this school believe in scientific evidence to determine just a punishment for crimes.

Criminology: Branches and Theories

Some of the branches of Criminology are:

  • Penology – study of prisons and prison systems
  • Bio-criminology – the study of the biological basis of criminal behaviour
  • Feminist criminology – the study of women in crime
  • Criminalistics – study of crime detection
  • Victimology – study of rehabilitation of the victims of crime; and the process of
  • Criminal psychology – the study of views, thoughts, reactions, intentions and actions of criminals

Some of the major theories in criminology are:

  • Psychological Theories of Crime – explains criminal behaviour by assessing an individual’s personality
  • Biological Theories of Crime – assumes that some people are ‘born criminals’ and that they are physiologically different from others.
  • Social Control Theory – assumes that people can see the advantages of crime and are capable of inventing and executing all sorts of criminal acts on the spot, without special motivation or prior training.
  • Routine Activities Theory – that crime occurs when three elements – motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian occur
  • Self- Control Theory – relates the lack of self-control with the possibility of committing a crime
  • Social Construction Theory – suggests that some behaviours are regarded as crimes, under a set of socially constructed norms.
  • Cultural Transmission theory – focuses on the results of the value conflicts that arise between the dominant and subordinate groups.
  • Social Learning Theory – suggests that people learn from the society they live in and that their environment imbibes in them different values on crime and punishment.
  • Rational Choice Theory – suggests that criminals are rational in their decision – making in relation to crimes.

Paradigms of Criminology

The branch of criminology follows certain important uniform patterns, in analyzing crime scenes. The five major paradigms that are used in criminology are:

  • Rational choice – believes that the general concept of rational choice has a role to play in crimes.
  • Positivism – believes that criminals are born as such and not made into criminals.
  • Interactionism – says that most people commit crimes but only some are caught and punished for it.
  • Critical perspective – believes in modifying traditional concepts and uncovering false beliefs on crimes.
  • Integration – The process of integrating ideas from different criminological theories into a single statement, to provide a better concise explanation on crimes.

Scope in Criminology

Criminology is an interdisciplinary science that has vast scope, majorly in domains such as law, psychology etc. Many scholars, researchers and sociologists work in extending the boundaries of criminology. The scope of criminology includes:

  • The detection and investigation of crimes
  • The arrest and apprehension of criminals
  • The prosecution and conviction of the criminal in a judicial proceeding.
  • The enforcement of laws, decrees and regulations
  • The administration of the police and other law enforcement agencies
  • The study of criminal laws

Career in criminology

  • Criminologists work in government agencies for investigations and policymaking, take part in law enforcement, and in educational institutions that deal with the subject of interest.
  • The basic qualification for a job in criminology is a bachelor’s degree, although a lot of candidates later pursue post-graduate courses and research programmes in the subject. It is observed that many entry-level criminologists have degrees in psychology or sociology with an emphasis in criminal science.
  • A candidate, to be employed in the field of criminology has to undergo several interviews and drug screenings and should have no criminal backgrounds.
  • Most candidates working in the field begin their careers as assistant criminologists and groom themselves through intensive trainings.
  • On achieving necessary skills and polishing their abilities, they later get into the post of a criminologist and later into that of a chief criminologist.

Some of the jobs that can be obtained on completing a course in criminology are:

  • Crime intelligence analyst
  • Crime laboratory analyst
  • Crime investigators
  • Forensic Surgeon
  • Private Detective
  • Police officers
  • Corrections officer
  • Loss prevention specialist
  • Psychological investigator
  • Lecturer

Criminologists are hired by the government as well as private sectors. They are majorly recruited by agencies like government institutions that work against crime, Police, etc. The average salary of a criminologist depends on the recruiter and on the nature of the firm. However, it is estimated that the salary of a criminologist lies between 3 – 4 lakhs per annum (India), which might essentially increase or decrease with your skills and experience. Criminologists earn $32,220 to $33,160 a year, on average.

Institutions that offer courses in criminology

  • Abroad:
  • University of Cambridge (England)
  • University of Pennsylvania (US)
  • University of Florida(US)
  • Griffith University(Australia)
  • University of Sydney(Australia)


  • In India:
  • University of Pune
  • Osmania University
  • Pondicherry University(Pondicherry)
  • University of Mysore(Karnataka)
  • University of Madras(Tamil Nadu)
  • Karunya Institute of Technology and Sciences(Tamil Nadu)

Famous Criminologists 

  • Cesare Lombroso – Considered as the ‘Father of Criminology’. Lombroso was of the opinion that criminality is inherent and could be identified through physical characteristics. He categorized criminals into Criminaloids, Criminals by Passion, Born Criminals and Occasional Criminals.
  • Jane Addams – Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her major topics of interest were the role of society and poverty in influencing crime and the ways to combat crime through economic security
  • Cesare Beccaria – Known as the ‘Father of criminal law and modern criminal justice’. He was against the death penalty and believed that the certainty of punishment to be more effective than the severity of the punishment.
  • Enrico Ferri – initiated changes to economic and social factors which contribute to criminal behaviour and believed in the theory of preventing the possibilities of crimes rather than punishing criminals.
  • Hand Eysenck – A psychology professor, author of a book on crime and personality, and developer of theories on behavioural therapy and the relation between personality and intelligence.
  • Alexandre Lacassagne – Physician, who later came into the field of contemporary criminology, believed that criminality was influenced more by social factors than inherent factors.

Criminology vs. Criminal Justice

Criminology refers to the study of crime and deals with various aspects related to crimes, to get information of the nature of the crime, the location where it takes place etc. and suggests policies to respond against it.

Criminal Justice is an application of criminology. It is a system that contains different institutions that try to enforce criminal law under a set of prescribed rules and regulations.

The criminal justice consists of three major components, which are:

  • Law Enforcement – investigation of crimes, gathering of evidence and taking reports on crimes.
  • Courts – make sure that laws are followed
  • Corrections – separates convicts from the society

Criminal Justice system includes many subsystems, composed of various institutions. Different law enforcement agencies like the Police, Courts, Defender officers, Custodial Institutions and Correction departments are some of these.

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Student of Economics in Miranda House, University of Delhi. Interested in writing, reading, music, painting, public speaking, and debating.Aspiring Economist. A dreamer who loves the smiles and colours of the world.