An Introduction to Experimental Criminology

  • Lawrence W. Sherman


Experimental criminology is scientific knowledge about crime and justice discovered from random assignment of different conditions in large field tests. This method is the preferred way to estimate the average effects of one variable on another, holding all other variables constant (Campbell and Stanley 1963; Cook and Campbell 1979). While the experimental method is not intended to answer all the research questions in criminology, it can be used far more often than most criminologists assume (Federal Judicial Center, 1981). Opportunities are particularly promising in partnership with criminal justice agencies.

The highest and best use of experimental criminology is to develop and test theoretically coherent ideas about reducing harm (Sherman 2006, 2007), rather than just “evaluating” government programs. Those tests, in turn, can help to accumulate an integrated body of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967) in which experimental evidence plays a crucial role. When properly executed, randomized field experiments provide the ideal tests of theories about both the prevention and causation of crime.


Principal Investigator Random Assignment Orange Juice Restorative Justice Police Agency 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence W. Sherman
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Criminology, University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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