Module J: The Concept of Crime Prevention and Nazi Criminal Anthropology

Andreas Strippel


Target groups
Police officers in training or further education as well as information disseminators at police academies


Themes and goals
Thanks to the professionalisation and scientification of criminology in the 19th century, the approach of fighting crime before it happens became an international phenomenon that developed across all political systems. The idea of prevention also took root in the criminal investigation departments of the German police, and in the 1920s, criminology focused on two major aspects. First, the public needed to be educated about the methods of criminals, so that they could learn how to prevent their homes from being broken into, for example. Second, criminal investigators relied on social and scientific discourses to describe certain forms of deviant behaviour as a) criminal and/or b) biologically determined. While the first focused on the crime, the second focused on the perpetrator. Criminal investigators then worked to prevent crimes using both elements. Looking at the crime from the perpetrator’s point of view was a rather novel idea in criminology at the time. Combined with eugenics, criminology thus became a part of the population policy, and criminal acts were interpreted from a biological and social point of view. As part of the Nazi population policy based on “racial hygiene”, criminal anthropology also became an essential foundation of the Nazi practice of extermination.


In this module, participants explore the following issues:

  1. a) the legitimacy of prevention
  2. b) the necessity of democratic control (in regard to state institutions and social actors).

The goal of this module is for participants to learn how to recognise and discuss the difference between a state governed by rule of law and a preventive state (the Nazi regime is understood here as a preventive state, striving to maintain the “wellbeing of the people” without being bound by a legal framework). We also look at the potential conflicts between individual rights and the collective need for protection.