Experiments in criminal justice contexts
Experiments are commonplace in the natural and social sciences, yet it is only recently that experimental methods have been applied in the fields of criminology, policing studies, and, most recently, socio-legal studies. Delay in the uptake of experimental methods in these disciplines may relate partly to the ethical challenges rife in criminal justice contexts. Nevertheless, criminal justice organisations in the UK and beyond are increasingly committed to experimental evaluations of new policies and existing practices. This chapter aims to introduce the reader to different types of experimental methods and provide examples of how these methods have been applied in criminal justice contexts. We argue that experimental methods provide a powerful research tool for estimating causal effects and can produce clear, actionable policy recommendations. However, in some circumstances, experiments are clearly not appropriate, and decisions about whether to use experimental methods should be taken on a case-by-case basis. Calls for increasing the methodological diversity of many academic disciplines are commonplace, and, within the field of criminology and related subject areas, experiments can and should constitute a vital part of this diversity.