Criminology and Criminal Justice Timeline

Explore Significant Developments in Criminal Justice, Forensics and Criminology

Criminology history
Criminology has a long history.

As ingrained in our society as we may think the concepts of crime and punishment may be, the truth is that out understanding of what crime is and how to respond to it have evolved significantly through the centuries. Civilizations across the globe have contributed some very significant events in the development of criminal justice in our society. In recognition of those contributions, I've put together brief timeline of the history of criminology, criminal justice and forensic science.

  • 8000-4000 BC: Pre-civilization and blood feuds. Farming communities developed in the Middle East, bringing groups of people closer together, creating land disputes and the increased potential for crimes to occur.
  • 3500 BC: Sumeria grows into first known civilization, establishes first city-states and governments to help settle disputes.
  • 509 BC: Rise of the Roman Republic
  • 500 BC - 500 AD: The Roman military served as the primary law enforcers, and their presence in the streets of cites and villages became an effective crime prevention strategy.
  • 428-347 BC: Greek philosopher Plato, student of Socrates, introduces the concept that humans are inherently good, which would lay the ground work for future Christian theology and influence views of crime and punishment centuries later
  • 384-327 BC: Aristotle, student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great, greatly expounds on the study of science and scientific observation, which would later influence forensics and crime investigations, among other things.
  • 44 BC: Assassination of Julius Caesar: The first recorded autopsy is performed on Julius Caesar.
  • 50-70 AD: Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician living in Rome, categorizes various plants, their medicinal effects and symptoms of poisoning. The work, De Materia Medica, is considered to be the foundation of forensic toxicology.
  • 35 AD - 96 AD: Roman orator Quintilian uses known science to prove bloody hand prints did not belong to accused murder
  • 500 AD -1000 AD: Decline of Roman Empire leads to destabilization in western world and a return to Kin Policing concept and blood feuds, whereby families and neighbors policed themselves. Clans were seen as responsible for their own members took matters of crime and punishment into their own hands.
  • 1035 AD: Frankenpledge concept of policing introduced, wherein every all males over the age of 12 were formed into groups of 10 with their neighbors and took an oath to capture and detain members of their own clans who committed crimes, under the supervision of a constable. Constables in the shire were under the supervision of the Shire Reeve, who was appointed by the crown.
  • 1248 AD: Chinese physician publishes Hsi Duan Yu (The Washing Away of Wrongs), the earliest known work on pathology and death investigations
  • 1265 AD - 1274 AD: Saint Thomas Aquinas composes his best-known work, The Summa Theologica, in which he espouses the notion of the Natural Law, building on Plato's philosophy. Suggested crime was an affront to God and that, since people are inherently good, crime damaged not only the victim, but the criminal as well. 
  • 1300 AD - 1600 AD: Renaissance period thought influences attitudes toward government, crime and punishment.
  • 14th Century AD: Justices of the Peace appointed by the King to provide support to constables and Shire Reeves. Justices could issue warrants, hold arraignment hearings and try case involving minor crimes.
  • 14th Century AD: Parish constable system and the "hue and cry" developed, in which males were appointed serve as constables in a town for a period of a year. When constable called for aid, all men of the town would immediately respond. The call for aid would carry from town to town until a criminal was caught or the emergency ceased.
  • 16th Century AD: Introduction of the scientific method as a tool for investigating crimes and examining evidence
  • 1625 AD - 1762 AD: Various western philosophers discuss the idea of the Social Contract, in which the purpose and role of the government and the responsibilities of the people and the sovereign are explained. People cede their authority to the sovereign in exchange for safety, security and prosperity. This thinking influences a more secular view of crime during the Enlightenment.
  • 1700 AD - 1900 AD: Widespread acceptance and use of scientific means to collect and compare evidence
  • 1764 AD: Italian lawyer and philosopher Cesare Beccaria publishes his best-know work, On Crimes and Punishments, calling for a fixed scale in which the severity of the punishment would increase with the severity of the crime.
  • 1829 AD: Metropolitan Police Services established London, marking the first true full-time, uniformed and professional police force. Sir Robert Peel's 9 Principles of Policing were issued to every officer o the force.
  • 1827 AD: Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet looked a national crime statistics from France and identified correlations between crime and demographics including age, gender, education and socioeconomic status. 
  • 1859 AD - 1909 AD: Psychiatrist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso founds the Positivist School of Criminology and suggests psychological and biological links to criminal behavior.
  • 1888 AD: George Eastman's revolutionary Kodak camera became widely available and could be used to photograph and document crime scenes.
  • 1886 AD: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes employs science and reason to solve crime and popularizes the concept of forensics
  • 1880 AD: Henry Faulds and William Herschel publish a study in Nature demonstrating fingerprints were unique to individuals
  • 1901 AD: A method for using hydrogen peroxide to detect traces of blood through oxidation is discovered.
  • 1910 AD: Dr. Edmond Locard, father of crime scene investigation, establishes the first real crime lab in two attic rooms at the Lyon, France police department.
  • 1934 AD: Dr. Locard publishes his now-famous Locard's Exchange Principle, a belief that everything leaves a trace and thus the prevailing notion that there is always evidence to be found.
  • 1984 AD: Digital and computer forensics are first developed by the FBI to examine computer evidence.
  • 1987 AD: First time DNA evidence is used in criminal court; Tommie Lee Andrews becomes the first person to be convicted as a result of DNA.

Criminal Justice History Moves On

As time goes on, we continue to grow and evolve in how we understand and respond to crime. Our ideas of how to better prevent crime in the communities and increase the public trust in police will remain at the forefront of the noble profession found within criminology and criminal justice, and continue to provide exciting and rewarding career opportunities for years to come.

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