The study of crime, criminal behavior, and punishment in the 1700s gave rise to the classical school of criminology. A key theory of this school of thought was that man is a rational being, capable of choosing actions after evaluating the benefits and consequences. People who commit crimes do so out of free choice, and they commit crimes because they believe the rewards outweigh the risks. Social theorists Cesare Beccaria in Italy and Jeremy Bentham in England were influential in the classical school of criminology during the Enlightenment. They proposed legal and penal system reforms to ensure punishments were fair and individuals’ rights were respected and protected, regardless of social, political, or economic status.
Another major school of criminology was the positivist school, which emerged in the late 1800s. The key theory of this school was that individuals are driven to commit crime by psychological and/or social factors rather than simply free will. Theories that have since developed from the positivist school of criminology are that certain personality traits can be linked to certain types of crimes, and factors such as parental neglect, poverty, or living in densely populated areas may lead to a proclivity for breaking laws.
Unlike criminology, the study of criminal justice in the United States is relatively young, with origins in the early 20th century. August Vollmer, the first police chief in Berkeley, California, is considered a leading figure in the development of the criminal justice field. He introduced programs to improve the professionalism and performance of the police force, with higher standards for police education and training. In 1916, Vollmer introduced a criminal justice program at the University of California, Berkeley, which focused on police science. Several U.S. schools followed Vollmer’s example and added criminal justice programs to their curriculum as well.
Until the 1950s, the academic study of criminal justice focused mainly on issues about policing. By then police administration and department operations had grown in complexity, and there was also increased concern over maintaining a sound relationship between communities and the police. The New York City Police Department and civic leaders believed police needed a well-rounded education that included liberal arts to successfully handle the complexities of the job. Thus the Police Science Department was introduced in 1954, at what was then called the Baruch School of Business and Public Administration of City College. The program grew in popularity over the years, to the point that by 1964, an independent, degree-granting school of police science was established—the College of Police Science of the City University of New York. It was renamed the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1966, emphasizing its aim to provide broader education in criminal justice, leadership development, and public service. The school was named for John Jay, who was the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, former governor of New York, and one of the founding fathers of the United States.
More attention was paid to the rights of the victims of crimes starting in the late 1970s. This led to the passage of the Victims of Crime Act in 1984, which gave funds to victim assistance programs, victim compensation, and for research on victims’ needs. Congress amended the act in 1988 to create the Office for Victims of Crime, expanding the leadership and funding on behalf of victims. The National Institute of Justice reported that as of 2003, every State had a crime compensation program and had passed some form of victims’ rights legislation, and that approximately two-thirds of all the states had passed constitutional amendments that guarantee victims’ rights.