Early on, thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham believed that criminals committed crimes because in the utilitarian calculation of utility, the criminals regarded the cost of their crimes as smaller than the benefits that they reaped. Therefore, in order to prevent deviance, the society must impose strict sanctions upon the offender in order to increase the costs of deviance, causing the utility of crime to be far less beneficial for people.
- Cesare Beccaria
Cesare Lombroso and his Italian School of criminology argued against the utlitarian school by assuming that deviants and criminals break social norms and laws due to atavistic traits. In other words, they believed that these people are not as highly advanced in the evolutionary process as normally functioning members of society. The Italian School also believed that these atavistic traits are indicated by physical, biological indicators of a person such as body type or the shape of the face. These theorists believed that deviants are not flexible individuals; criminal tendencies stem from biological factors, and thus they believed that punishment would not work since biological determinants on crime would be more or less fate. Therefore, if punishment would not work, then neutralization of the deviant was necessary. The theorists in the Italian School believed that institutions such as mental hospitals, lifetime imprisonment, or the death sentence would neutralize the deviant and thus make the society fit for the normal people to live safely.
Ever since sociology has been used as a tool to describe and analyze deviance, however, the biological theories such as those found in the Italian School has fallen into unpopularity. Biological theories of deviance have been seen as racist, since ideas such as eugenics have been justified with these theories. US schools are currently the only schools that consider biological theories of deviance in any detail. Foreign schools only mention these ideas briefly and refute them with sociological studies in social deviance courses. This is due to the availability and interest of the study of DNA in the US. However, these "biosocial" theories are generally not accepted by the mainstream sociological community because of the tenuous (at best) link between biology and behavior, as well as the strong evidence that these biosocial theories base their ideas on flawed research, confounded variables, and confusion about causality (correlation does not imply causation).