Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880-1945

By Richard F. Wetzell | Go to book overview
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Having surveyed the internal development of criminology during the Nazi years, we must now ask what role criminological research played in penal and eugenic policy. Since most of the people involved in debating or carrying out these policies did not themselves specialize in criminology, this chapter also deals with the reception of criminological research among German jurists, doctors, politicians, and bureaucrats. While most of this chapter will focus on policy concerning the sterilization of criminals during the Weimar and Nazi years, we will begin with a general overview of Nazi penal policy.

Nazi penal policy was driven by two competing attitudes. On the one hand, the Nazis criticized the supposed "emasculation" of criminal justice during the Weimar years and blamed it on penal reformers and criminologists. In the Nazis' view, all penal reformers were liberals whose belief in individual rights led them to champion the rights of criminals at the expense of the protection of society. Furthermore, the Nazis charged, criminology's focus on the social and biological causes of crime had effectively relieved the criminal of individual responsibility and therefore undermined the moral foundation of criminal justice. As a result, Weimar penal reformers had, according to the Nazis, supplemented their liberal agenda with humanitarian concern for ameliorating the treatment of criminals. Having thus characterized Weimar penal reformers as "soft on crime," activist Nazi jurists called for harsher penal policies that would administer just retribution and place the protection of state and society above any liberal concerns for the rights of the accused. Dismissing rehabilitative efforts as motivated exclusively by humanitarian considerations, Nazi jurists demanded that imprisonment become unsparingly punitive again. 1.

Georg Dahm and Friedrich Schaffstein, Liberales oder autoritäres Strafrecht? (Hamburg:

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Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880-1945


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