Social Psychology and Criminal Justice

If the real world were to live up to our ideals, the judicial process would be a carefully designed and perfectly fair set of procedures aimed at achieving the objective, impartial decisions regarding violations of criminal and civil laws. In fact, the judicial system is neither as excellent as our ideals nor as terrible as our nightmares.

In newspapers, on radio and television, in other sources of information, we regularly encounter information about crimes and criminals. The criminal information is so widespread and so easily assimilated that people easily develop a distorted view of this aspect of our world. The media reminds us daily that crime is a serious problem that threatens any of us; the accessibility heuristic works easily when we make assumptions about the spread of crime and its dangers.

In fact, the record level of crime in the United States, including murder and theft, was recorded in the early 1980s, and since then it has been falling. According to Crime Rates, the total number of crimes fell from 41.2 million in 1981 to 34.4 million in 1991 (2019). FBI Statistics show that the number of offenses of the seven main types (including violent crimes) continued to fall in 1994, the third year in a row (FBI, 2011).

One of the explanations for this is that most violent crimes are committed by young men, and the surge generation (including criminals) has now reached middle age. The bad news and one of the reasons why we think crime is rising rather than decreasing are that the percentage of gun homicides committed by minors is skyrocketing. In fact, over the past decade, the number of teenage killers has tripled. Who are these armed young men? Ames Grawert indicates that boys aged 12 to 15 years in the 1990s had a 1 in 8 chance of becoming a victim of crime, while for people aged 65 years such chances only 1 in 179 (2017).

Thus, the facts concerning crime are extremely complex. In general, the percentage of violent crimes decreases, although the percentage of crimes among adolescents (especially against their peers) increases; but our perception usually simplifies the question by not considering the individual details. It is easier to accept readily available information and believe that the situation with violent crimes has deteriorated compared to previous times. The fact is that we exaggerate the problem based on the media attention to each tragic crime. We easily remember such stories, and it seems to us that similar events occur daily.


FBI. (2011). Crime in the United States by Volume and Rate per 100,000 Inhabitants, 1992–2011. UCR. Retrieved from

Grawert, A. (2017, April 18). Crime Trends: 1990-2016. BC. Retrieved from,by%20an%20estimated%207.8%20percent.

United States Crime Rates 1960 – 2018. (2018). Crime, Punishment, and Ratio of Crime to Punishment Per 100,000 and Rank by Year and between States 1978 -2012. Retrieved from


  1. This is a very interesting post. It’s so sad how many gun homicides we see nowadays, especially committed by minors. It’s also really sad, and quite scary, that boys who are 12 to 15-years-old have a 1 in 8 chance of being a victim of a crime. And that statistic is even scarier when compared to the odds of a 65-year-old being a victim of a crime, which is a 1 in 179 chance. We definitely need to make some changes to lower the amount of violence in the United States, especially gun violence. While it does seem like similar events are happening every day because of the attention in the media that is so accessible to us, I think that the media may also be desensitizing us to such crimes. For example, we see so many stories about gun violence and in the beginning it seemed as though we had much different reactions. Before we were used to seeing these stories every day, we would see one and feel saddened and surprised by the action, we would probably think about it for a while and not let it leave our minds. But now, when we see a story about gun violence, for example, it seems as though were just saying something along the lines of “oh wow, another shooting”. We’re still sad, obviously, but it’s not the same. We see these stories so much that we are becoming desensitized.

  2. Madison Bridget Laezzo

    I think that crimes receive a lot of press in the media because of how eye catching and shocking the news may be. We may hear in the news that a house was burglarized or someone was murdered in the near area. These crimes may seem like they happen frequently because of how often we see them trending in the news; however, this is not the case. Compared to the number of people living in the United States, the chance of being a victim of a crime is very low. When people hear this, they may be shocked by how uncommon any form of crime really is. News channels report on events that will cause a person to tune in and watch the show. If all the news was about the weather or a local event in the town, no one would watch. However, because people like to hear about crimes in their area to make them aware, news channels will primarily focus on that. Unfortunately, this has caused people to overestimate the amount of crime that actually occurs and think that crime is increasing instead of decreasing. In an article that I had read regarding crime in the United States, it indicated that there were an estimated 369 crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018, which was a decrease of 3.9% from 2017 (Farivar, 2019). This statistic disproves a lot of beliefs that crime in increasing as well as the idea that crimes are more common than we think.
    I agree with you that one of the reasons why people might think that crime is increasing is due to the increase in gun violence by minors. We hear about it in the news whenever it occurs and it remains for weeks to come. It instills fear into people thinking that they could be the next victim and this can be very dangerous. It is important to show awareness for tragedies like those; however, the media should not sensationalize these attacks and put them out there to scare people. The media should focus more on promoting awareness to mental health and helping adolescents follow the right path in life and not so much about crime. By doing this, people may change their opinions on the crime rates in the United States and put the news into perspective the frequency of crimes committed. Great post!

    Farivar, M. (2019). US Violent Crime Rate Falls for 2nd Year in a Row. Retrieved from Voice of America:

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