Difference between Conservative and Radical Criminology

The following points of difference may be pointed out between conservative / traditional / orthodox criminology and radical criminology:

(1) Conservative criminology remains concerned with the causation of crime and punishment and correction of criminals, but radical criminology focuses on the legislation enacted by the ruling class, or the materialist analysis of law.

(2) The conservative criminologists explain deviance by reference to some social or personal pathology, but the radical criminologists argue that deviant action must always be examined in terms of political-economic structure of society, and in terms of the ‘power elite’ wanting to strengthen power of the state over the weak and the poor.


(3) While functional paradigm is dominant in conservative criminology, conflict paradigm is dominant in radical criminology.

(4) Conservative criminology attempts to correct and control the excesses of a punitive and repressive judicial system, but radical criminology does not take interest in the amelioration of environment or the building of a social work.

(5) The conservative criminologist focuses his attention on the activities of the violator of law, the radical criminologist focuses on the activities of the powerful, most of which (activities) are either not defined as illegal or else are not apprehended in practice, like financial swindles, moral scandals, high-class prostitution, upper-class fraud, bribery, corruption, civil rights violations, government burglaries, and business malpractices.

No wonder, the ‘expose (new radical) criminology’ is useful in damasking the crime-free facade of the ruling class, and in pointing to inequalities in apprehension, definition and punishment of the crimes of the powerful people, or the ruling groups.


(6) The conservative criminologists characterise the social order as consensual, with a minority of deviants existing in society, the radical criminologists argue for the existence of diversity of values and various subcultures or of cultural diversity within the society.

(7) The conservative criminologists are more concerned with correctionalism or effective management and reform in the penal system; the radical criminologists reject liberal reformism and correctionalism.

They criticise the role of the police, the prison administrators, the judges, and the social workers taking them to be agents of social control. They claim that probation, parole, juvenile court system, children homes, Borstal schools, observation homes, the indeterminate sentence system, etc. only “serve to strengthen the power of the state over the poor and the exploited”.

(8) The conservative criminologists explain the deviancy of a person in terms of forces beyond his control (i.e., determinism); the radical criminologists explain it in terms of ‘free-will’ of deviants.