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

By Richard F. Wetzell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE

CRIMINOLOGY AND PENAL POLICY, 1880-1914

Having reviewed the development of criminological research from the 1880s to 1914 in the last chapter, we now turn to the implications of criminological research for penal policy. After a brief overview of Imperial Germany's criminal justice system and the penal reformers' agenda, I will examine the implications of criminological research for the fundamental issue of legal responsibility. The rest of this chapter will discuss the prewar debates on three issues that arose from the claim that many habitual criminals were geistig minderwertig (mentally deficient): Should minderwertige offenders receive punishment or medical treatment? Should minderwertige persons who appeared dangerous but had not committed a crime be subject to preventive detention? And, finally, should minderwertige criminals, or the Minderwertige in general, be sterilized?


Criminal Justice, Criminology, and the
Question of Legal Responsibility

It has been rightly pointed out that Imperial Germany's judicial system had a number of authoritarian and repressive features. Strict libel laws were used to restrict the freedom of the press. From 1878 to 1890 a special law outlawing Germany's Social-Democratic Party (SPD) made use of penal sanctions to combat the growth of the political party that seemed most threatening to those in power. And police ordinances regulating the public sphere attempted to curtail working-class activities. 1. While these repressive features were important, the fact that the government had to have recourse to a special law to combat the

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1.
Eric Johnson, Urbanization and Crime: Germany, 1871-1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 15-51.

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