Experimental Criminology- Failures and Victories

Experimental criminology

Experimental criminology is a part of Criminology which deals with the scientific knowledge about crime thus providing aid to the justice delivery system. It is a part of a larger and increasingly expanding scientific research evidence-based movement in social policy and is majorly used in developing and testing ideas for reducing crimes. When properly executed it provides the ideal tests of theories about the cause, effect and prevention of crime in society. Herein, we would deal with what essentially Experimental Criminology is and how it has emerged as a part of the justice delivery system.

What is Criminology?

The word Criminology is originally formed by joining two Ancient Greek words krino meaning “accusation” and logos meaning “reason,” or “study”. Therefore, on a bare understanding of the root words, we may concur that the term means the “study of accusation”. To be more precise, Criminology deals with the scientific study of the nature, extent, prevention and every other aspect of criminal behaviour both on a macro and micro level. It is an interdisciplinary field and therefore draws subject matters from sociology, psychology, psychiatry, biology, with the base of Law.

The term Criminology was coined by Italian law professor Raffaele Garofalo in 1885 but during that time it did not receive the spotlight. Later by the efforts of French anthropologist Paul Topinard criminology came into the mainstream. During the initial days of its inception, it emphasised on the reform of criminal law and not on the causes of crime. The first textbook which specifically dealt with criminology was written in 1920 by American sociologist Maurice Parmalee under the title “Criminology”, and with this, it made its way into the justice delivery system.

Who are Criminologists and what do they do?

Essentially Criminologists are the people who work and research in the field of criminology. They have an interdisciplinary outlook towards crime and look for various aspects such as behavioural patterns, psychology and the like to understand a particular crime or criminal. These people like any other researcher conduct researches and investigations, thereby making theories and results, which are not always aimed at getting a solution.

The job of a Criminologist includes the study of nature of crime and criminals, etymology of crime, a crime’s impact on society as a whole, and how laws could be developed to facilitate the prevention of crimes. Based on this, criminology can be divided into 3 channels of works which are: a). Investigation of a Crime, b). Finding the cause of crime, thereby understand the criminals and c). To devise measures to prevent a crime and fill-up loopholes which are existing in the criminal law.

What is Experimental Criminology?

Experimental criminology is a field within criminology that uses scientific experiments to understand crime, its cause-effect relations, prevention and punishment. The subject matter of Experimental Criminology is more like that of the Social Sciences and therefore there are no laboratories to conduct researches on the subject matter of Experimental Criminology which is the society itself. Experiments concluded under it are aimed at dealing with the crime and placate its effect on society. As of now though Experimental Criminology is not perfect, it is considered the best way to understand and evaluate the cause-effect relation of crime thereby making preventive measures to aid the justice delivery system.

The field of experimental criminology is a direct response to the causes of crime in the modern-day. It uses advanced experimental methods to find out and explain the causes and responses to crime. Experimental criminology relies on the work performed by criminologists, statisticians, and other social scientists in order to fully understand crime and the social justice system. The methods used in experimental criminology consists randomized controlled trials (RCTs), case-control designs, natural experiments and the like.

It involves the controlled study of cause and effect, with two sub-categories: quasi-experimental and experimental. Research is experimental when the subjects are randomly selected whereas research is quasi-experimental when the subjects are specifically picked up to study the cause and effect of a certain crime. In experimental criminology, samples are typically assigned between two groups and then observation is made to establish outcome measures which could be some preventive measure against the crime.

Evolution of Experimental Criminology

Major evolutions in the field of experimental criminology began in the 1990s and early 2000s, with the establishment of several groups such as the Campbell Collaboration, the Academy of Experimental Criminology, the Journal of Experimental Criminology with Professor David Weisburd as the first Editor-in-Chief, and the Division of Experimental Criminology within the American Society of Criminology, which has significantly advanced the field of experimental criminology in the modern time. This has also extended the use of experiments to understand and answer questions related to the causes and effects of crime and then suggest ways such that the justice delivery system might best prevent or control crime problems.

Experimental Criminology: Victories and Failures

On evaluating the various aspects related to Experimental Criminology as a tool of crime prevention it is clear that the field is in its budding stage and is therefore used mainly as a pilot method. Hereunder are certain points based upon Indian conditions that could be taken into account to concur the effectiveness and non-effectiveness of Experimental Criminology.

Experimental criminology addresses intense issues in crime and justice, providing empirical guidance to the judiciary thereby facilitating the judgments. It makes the entire judicial system come at par with the contemporary modernised outlook of the scientific fraternity thereby making courts decide what is right and wrong more effectively.

Experimental Criminology methodology if done properly poses fewer risks for society and addresses a greater number of issues which cannot be answered under Analytical Criminology. In India, experimental criminology is now getting acquaintances and both the police and the judicial system is utilising it to facilitate their investigations and judgments.

Experimental criminology in the modern era has lessened the risk of causing harm by finding more humane and effective alternatives to long imprisonment. An observation made through this method makes a clear and concrete point which enhances the overall viability of pieces of evidence and this in-turn becomes its greatest victory by fulfilling the noble notion it was developed for.

As of now, criminologists put most of their efforts into the basic science of crime patterns and theories of criminality and not as to how to prevent them and placate their effects.

It is a known fact that delivering scientific facts, which are compelling is not an easy task and considering the Indian Judicial System many a time relevant facts remains unanswered and therefore the balance between criminological findings and public policy cannot be maintained. The biggest lacuna here is that criminology still remains analytical and non-experimental which simply becomes an impediment for this budding field.

Criminologists are often under intense pressure to produce scholarly work, which prohibits them to establish an effective relationship with the legal fraternity of a nation and the same is the case in India as well. This greatly affects the overall work of criminologists thereby making a rift between them and the legislators.

In India, it is difficult to implement reforms based upon Criminological observations because of politics, bureaucratic obstacles and ideological conflicts. Indian being home to multitudinous communities cannot feasibly hold a law based upon such researches because in one way or the other there would be a conflict of interest between various communities which again becomes an impediment. In Indian Judicial System, empirical evidence is not equivalent to legislative provisions and this is the greatest failure of India in the field of Criminology. Indian Courts consider such evidences as the last resort to know the truth and much is ruled by legal jargon.


Therefore, it may safely be concluded that despite having major victories Experimental Criminology is in a pilot stage and therefore suffers from certain infractions. But it cannot be denied that Experimental Criminology is very important for building a solid evidence base not only for the judiciary but also for the legislators to revitalize and renew major legislations so as to facilitate the basic judicial precinct of the nation. It is also to be noted here that the conditions within a community are the subject matter of Experimental Criminology and therefore it becomes the duty of criminologists to promote and bring out community-focused observations that will ultimately reduce crimes more effectively. It is time when our thelegislators and criminologists understand the crime within societies empirically and it is only with such drastic steps it can become plausibly to prevent crime through observations made by Experimental Criminology.

Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


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I am Pratyush Pandey, a law student from the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. I am the third generation in my family to be in the legal academia and aspire to serve the legal fraternity. As of now, I have an interest in the field of Constitutional and Family Law. Also, I have a great interest in writing, mooting and speedcubing.