Oct 19

Jury, “just forget it”

In regards to inadmissible evidence, can a jury truly “just forget it” and disregard statements or evidence? Inadmissible evidence in court is evidence that cannot be used because it is invalid. When evidence is ruled, inadmissible, or comments are asked to be disregarded, how can the jury completely forget it, and have it not affect the final verdicts? Research say, most likely not.

Backfire effect

First, the “backfire effect” is when evidence is asked to be disregarded, but then it actually becomes more influential on verdicts. A study done by the Journal of Law and Human Behavior focuses on the influence of inadmissible evidence and jury verdicts. “Firing back at the backfire effect: The influence of mortality salience and nullification beliefs on reactions to inadmissible evidence” looks into both dispositional and situational factors that contribute to “the backfire effect”.

The results of this study show that participants who scored high on a measure of nullification beliefs exhibited the backfire effect. This means that participants who believed in their own views of justice rather than that written law were more prone to the backfire effect (Cook et al., 2004).


The use of inadmissible evidence in a court case can have dangerous consequences. In cases involving high crimes such as murder, guilty verdict rates are higher with jurors asked to dismiss evidence in comparison to never hearing the evidence in the first place (Steblay et al. 2006). An innocent person can be sent to jail for a crime they didn’t commit. This is a critical and dangerous issue than needs to be addressed in the justice system.

How do we stop the “backfire”?

Is the solution merely finding a better way to have a jury erase something from their minds? No. Not in reality. However, there may be a simple solution. The judge at the beginning of the trial can mention that they may face evidence that will be inadmissible but won’t draw as much attention causes a backfire effect (Kassin & Sommers, 1997). Also, another possibility is to avoid telling the jury to dismiss evidence altogether (Cook et al., 2004). Further research is needed to look into this issue and the number of convictions that are influenced by the hopes of the jury being able to “just forget it”.



Cook, A., Arndt, J., & Lieberman, J. D. (2004). Firing back at the backfire effect: The influence of mortality salience and nullification beliefs on reactions to inadmissible evidence.Law and Human Behavior, 28(4), 389-410. doi:10.1023/B:LAHU.0000039332.21386.f4

Steblay, N., Hosch, H. M., Culhane, S. E., & McWethy, A. (2006). The impact on juror verdicts of judicial instruction to disregard inadmissible evidence: A meta-analysis. Law and Human Behavior, 30(4), 469-492. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1007/s10979-006-9039-7

Kassin, S. M., & Sommers, S. R. (1997). Inadmissible Testimony, Instructions to Disregard, and the Jury: Substantive Versus Procedural Considerations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(10), 1046–1054. https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672972310005

Oct 19

Adolescent Criminal Behavior

I remember between the ages of 16-19 I would engage in minor crimes like driving without a license, underage drinking, and scratching my initials on a couple of Starbucks tables. I did not think much of it then mainly because the majority of friends would do the same. This is an example of adolescence-limited delinquency, which is when individuals only engage in criminal behavior from around the ages of 12-25 (Arnett, 2018). This type of behavior is usually traced back to peer pressure and the exploration of freedom that encourages and influences adolescents.

I decided to ask a couple of my friends and family about their views on minor crimes during their adolescence versus now, what crimes they committed (if any), and if they would engage in minor criminal behavior today. I individually interviewed my parents (58 & 59), my brother (20), my brother’s friend (22), and my friend (24). All of them answered that they engaged in minor crimes during their adolescent years, specifically in high school. Their minor crimes mainly involved stealing candy, driving without a license, underage drinking, and trespassing. They each stated that they involved themselves in delinquent acts mainly when they were in high school, except underage drinking which is a pretty common law that is broken up until we turn 21.

There seemed to be a correlation between high school and minor crimes, so I asked each of them why they committed their silly crimes and, once again, all responded with the same answers. Each of their responses followed along the lines of peer pressure. For example, my father said the reason he and his friends participated in small crimes was because they would dare each other. While my brother and his friend’s answers were because their friends did it, so they decided to follow. I proceeded to ask if they would engage in any of the crimes they did in high school now and if they regretted any of them. Each responded saying they would not because they know better, but it was fun and created memories and stories to tell today. All of them followed by stating they have no regrets and would not have changed their decisions if they went back in time.

I honestly was not expecting everyone to respond with almost the exact same answers, but it shows how common this behavior is during adolescent years. I can conclude based on my experiences and my interviewees’ experiences that the adolescence-limited delinquency is something the majority of us participate in due to fitting in and peer pressure.


Arnett, J. J. (2018). Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Oct 19

See Something. Say Nothing.

“Anger is directed, not toward the crime, nor the criminal, but toward those who failed to halt the criminal’s actions.”

The above quote from The Nation (1964) was written in a piece covering the 1964 murder of New York resident Kitty Genovese.  This case was mentioned briefly in our textbook in the section covering the bystander effect.  The mention of this case piqued my interest and compelled me to look into it further.

Kitty Genovese

My research into this topic initially led me to the original March 27 1964 New York Times article entitled “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”.  The article detailed a crime in which 38 citizens (one more citizen than the title of the article implies) did nothing as they watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks over the course of more than half an hour.

The New York Times, March 27, 1964

By 1964 standards, this story went viral.  Versions of the story appeared in major newspapers and print outlets around the country and the world, including Life Magazine, the Los Angeles Free Press, and Rolling Stonemagazine.  The publicity resulting from this case prompted social psychologists to investigate what was termed the “bystander intervention effect.”  The bystander effect refers to the finding that the more people who are present when help is needed, the less likely any one of them is to provide assistance (Lurigio, 2015). While reading more details about the Genovese murder, I wondered how the bystander effect came into play in this particular case.  The murder happened at 3:15 in the morning.  It was reported by the New York Times that the 38 witnesses to whom they referred were residents of surrounding apartments that either heard screams, saw the actual attack or witnessed a man fleeing the scene.  The question for me that came to mind was, if in accordance with the definition of the bystander effect, how did these witnesses know how many people were “present” when the crime was occurring?  Was it assumed by the individual witnesses that others were hearing and seeing the identical details of the scene?  Based on the definition in our textbook, it seems that the correct categorization of this would be a diffusion of responsibility.  This occurs when a person doesn’t feel responsible to act because they feel as if others will do so (Gruman, 2017).  This effect can occur with the witness have zero perception about the presence of other bystanders.  Some articles written soon after the crime occurred even suggested that there was not only a diffusion of responsibility for helping but there was also a diffusion of any potential blame for not acting as it was possible that somebody, unperceived, had already initiated helping action (Darley, 1968).


My expanding interest in this case led me to the documentary “The Witness” in which Bill Genovese, the brother of Kitty, leads his own examination into the events surrounding his sister’s murder as well as a search for any of the reported 38 witnesses that might still be alive.

“The Witness” documentary

During his investigation, he learned that the original New York Times story was significantly embellished in an effort to make the story more sensational.  The number of witnesses to the crime was greatly exaggerated and classifying them as “eye witnesses” was categorically erroneous.  The documentary is fascinating not only from the vantage point of considering the bystander effect but also how a singular event, whether perceived or accurate, exaggerated or precise, insignificant or major can affect the lives of individuals who are unaware of how many other people are affected by the same incident.


Lurigio, A. J. (2015). Crime narratives, dramatizations, and the legacy of the kitty genovese murder: A half century of half truths. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42(7), 782-789. doi:10.1177/0093854814562954

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE.

Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4), 377-383. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1037/h0025589






Oct 19

Why Parenting Could be the Most Important Factor in Mitigating Antisocial Behavior

To the average person, teenagers being anti-social seems pretty par for the course. The attitude changes, the physical changes, their suddenly increased need for privacy and independence; Sound familiar? Needless to say, that transition into adolescence can be a bit painful for everyone.

For psychologists, adolescent antisocial tendencies and attitudes may be a risk factor of future criminal behavior (Coutts et al., 2017).

                Before we dive off the deep end, let me just say, I am by no means implying that a teenager you know who skipped family movie night is at immediate risk of grabbing a gun and robbing a bank. Like everything else in psychology, it’s not that simple.

The risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model created by Andrews and Bonta provides a category of eight risk factors that increase the chance an individual will engage in, or re-engage in (recidivism) criminal behavior (Anderson et al., 2018). These eight categories are split into two sub-groupings. The Big Four risk factors are antisocial behavior, antisocial personality, antisocial attitudes (beliefs and values), and associating with an antisocial peer group (Coutts et al., 2017). The aptly named Moderate Four risk factors, named this way because they do not play as much of an influential role on the risk factors of criminal behavior, are family experiences, negative school and/or work experiences, low levels of societal involvement (lack of prosocial involvement), and substance abuse (Anderson et al., 2018).

Those are a lot of potential risk factors.

                The bad news is that there’s more. The good news is, I won’t be addressing them today.

Eight risk factors. Only one that speaks directly about family and parental involvement. However, Andrews and Bonta (along with a vast swath of psychological research on the topic) highlight the benefits of early intervention as a mitigating factor.

Humor me for a minute and reread the eight risk factors that Andrews and Bonta developed. Although only one specifically mentions family experiences, each of these factors can be influenced through active parental involvement.

While some may argue that antisocial behavior also relies heavily on the biology of the child and their predisposed inherited traits, environmental influences also play a significant role in behavior. Each of the eight risk factors, are more or less able to be mitigated through parental involvement.

Cutrin et al. (2017) insist that “research has demonstrated that parenting practices and peer group interact and jointly influence the development of antisocial and delinquent behaviors.”. I would argue that parents can influence who their children associate with, as long as they maintain open communication with their child, and establish an environment of trust in which their child is willing to disclose bad behavior. I would also argue that parents have a significant amount of influence over their children’s prosocial involvement, being able to influence how much or little involvement they have from a young age. With good communication between children and parents, negative school and work experiences can also be intervened in, and toxic situations can be overcome through parent intervention or relocation. Lastly, parental involvement can help reduce the risk of substance abuse and similar harmful behaviors.

I’m not claiming that effective parenting will eradicate the risk of the Central Eight. Instead, I encourage everyone to consider the full-potential that parental involvement could play in mitigating the Central Eight risk factors and what kind of intervention or parental awareness could encourage parents to play a more active part in the children who are potentially at risk.




Anderson, V. R., Campbell, C. A., & Papp, J. (2018). Assessing the Incremental Validity of Andrews and Bonta’s “Moderate Four” Predictors of Recidivism Using a Diverse Sample of Offending and Truant Youth. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology63(6), 854–873. doi: https://doi-org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1177/0306624X18814185.

Coutts, L. M., Gruman, J. A., & Schneider, F. W. (2017). Applied social psychology understanding and addressing social and practical problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Cutrín, O., Gomez-Fraguela, J. A., Maneiro, L., & Sobral, J. (2017). Effects of parenting practices through deviant peers on nonviolent and violent antisocial behaviours in middle- and late-adolescence. The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context9(2), 75–82. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpal.2017.02.001.

Oct 19

Does Jury Size Affect the Outcome of a Trial?

In our lesson this week, we learned that jury size can affect the outcome of the trial. Mathematicians have been working to try to determine if different jury sizes really can have an impact on the conviction of the defendant. One mathematician, Jeff Suzuki, did a lot of research regarding this topic. However, he used a hypothetical defendant, not a real example. In the past, mathematicians believed that each the probability of making the correct decision regarding the defendant was the same for each juror. For Suzuki’s research, he used three probabilities to calculate his data. This included the probability of the defendant actually being guilty, the probability of a juror making the right decision if the defendant was guilty, and the probability of the juror making the right decision if the defendant is innocent. From the research, Suzuki gathered that all juries, regardless of size, are likely to declare the defendant guilty when “the evidence suggests that a defendant is most certainly guilty” (Gorski, 2016). However, he also found that when it appears to be less certain that the defendant is guilty, it is more likely for a smaller jury to convict the defendant than a larger jury. It is important to keep in mind that this research and data does not take everything into consideration, like juror interaction, evidence, etc.

I found this information to be very interesting, even though it was just based off of a hypothetical situation, because it corresponds with what we learned in our lesson this week. We learned that a smaller jury is more likely to convict someone than a larger jury. This is because when the jury consists of six people, rather than twelve, it is more likely for someone who disagrees to conform to the incorrect decision that the rest of the jury agrees on. In a 12 person jury, there is a higher likelihood that more than one person will disagree with the rest. And since there are two of them, rather than one, it is more likely that they will be confident in their opinion and not conform with the rest. With that being said, it is much more fair to have a jury of 12 rather than 6.


Gorski, C. (2016, July 22). The Mathematics of Jury Size. Retrieved from https://www.insidescience.org/news/mathematics-jury-size.

Oct 19

Criminal Justice Reform

With nearly 2.3 million prisoners behind bars, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In context, that means more than in Communist China, Russia, or India.

The cry for criminal justice reform has been growing louder ever since the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences during the Clinton administration of the 90s. As expected, both Congress and the Senate have been slow to act.

It is therefore incredibly surprising, that despite all of the posturing and political vitriol being hurled across the aisles of Washington, the First Step Act was signed into law by the unlikeliest of presidents – Donald Trump.

Bipartisanism in an age of Tribalism


In the news media, hot button topics grab the most headlines. This ranges from health care and gun control to immigration and the economy. Yet under the surface, politicians are cooperating at an unprecedented rate, working together to compromise and pass legislation with support from all political strips.

The Numbers Don’t Add Up


Gathering accurate statistics about federal criminal justice metrics is easier to accomplish but there remains a glaring blind spot. Data about local criminal justice is often incredibly limited, inconsistent and not easily accessible to the public or policymakers.

So although at the federal level, the First Step Act will go along way to set new standards going forward, it does nothing retroactively and requires extensive time and consideration to adjust policies to be effective at state and local levels.

In the meantime, that means more lives being destroyed, more resources wasted, and more tax dollars being ineffectively thrown into a black hole of criminal justice opacity. Just when the light at the end of the tunnel will be reached for many inmates is still impossible to gauge. Furthermore, an entire swath of inmates has been entirely excluded from the reforms being cemented into law by the legislation.

High-risk groups, who would benefit the most from additional resources for productive programs are ineligible because of their status. Whereas low-risk inmates are afforded the utmost opportunity to reduce their time spent behind bars.

As expected, this bias also trends towards worsening the racial divide in the prison system, with more black Americans being labeled as dangerous, high-risk felons than white inmates.

A Road Paved With Good Intentions


One of the major focuses of the First Step Act is the shift in the application of mandatory minimum sentences. Historically, prosecutors were given discretion when choosing which charges to file and thus what sentencing recommendations would be available to a Judge. The Judge would then be required to follow the existing edict.

With the First Step Act, discretion goes back to the person wearing the robe and for the first time, a fair and impartial arbitrator can decide what level of sentencing is appropriate. This also serves to remove a coercive tool from a prosecutor’s toolbox. No longer can they threaten an accused individual with a mandatory minimum sentence as a way to extort a guilty plea, even if the accused is innocent.

The Next Step


Looking ahead, it is logical to conclude that a “Step Two Act” will be following on the heels of this groundbreaking legislation. What this hypothetical Act would look like and what problems it would address is up for debate.

In her book “Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration”, author Rachel Barkow suggests that the glaring problems still needing to be addressed include resources for “High-risk” prisoners, a path to freedom other than clemency for those existing prisoners who were unfairly prosecuted and quantification of the effectiveness of the Criminal Justice system at all levels so that measuring efficacy can be achieved with transparency.

This seems like a tall order to fill, especially since the industry of private prisons will always attempt to block any kind of scrutinization of their business practices. But politics and money be damned.

Building Solutions


The solution to overcoming these obstacles is to show the narrative for what it is. That the Criminal Justice system is so broken and harmful that people from all levels of society are being persecuted. By broadening the issue to be about human rights, and not focusing as strongly on the bias against ethnic minority groups – which undeniably exists – there emerges a clear cause for every American to rally behind.

Highlighting clear points of congruency and cooperation will always supply a better outcome for changing this broken system. As the ultimate example of this, look at the bipartisan support exercised for the passage of the First Step Act.

Oct 19

The Influence of The Internet & Media

The Internet has created super-fast flowing streams of information. Human as a biological being does not change its input/output parameters of information. When the streams accelerated dramatically, the long texts had to give way to the short texts. This has affected not only the volume but also the content. We have become people of both short texts and simple content.
Information technologies do not repeat each other at a new level, but begin to differ, not in terms of channels or media, but in terms of their fundamental characteristics, different from others. If the book was a carrier of knowledge, the Internet has become a different speed, that is, where a more important component is not knowledge, but transportation.
To recall the sensational article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic magazine, which was followed by the book, he touches on the topic much more extensively (2008). Interestingly, after Gutenberg invented the printing press, Italian humanists talked about the future “intellectual laziness” that would come with books, that people’s brains would weaken (Winston & Edelbach, 1998). Now we hear the same words in relation to the Internet.
Our fear of the disappearance of the book under the pressure of the coming Internet is not yet justified. However, people are reading less, particularly children Naomi Baron believes that digital media is changing even language (2009). First, it’s a shift toward changing the rules. Second, it changes the control of our communication. And this is understandable since SMS messages do not have editors, only authors who do not always own the rules. By the way, spelling changes are clearly visible even to the naked eye. Baron surveys have shown that while reading online, students are more likely to be engaged in other tasks, it is easier for them to concentrate when reading printed publications. 91% chose the book for the case of concentration rather than other platforms. 43% reported problems with concentration and complained of eye fatigue (2017).
The Internet has created super-fast flowing streams of information. On them, as on fast rivers, built analogs of power plants-information search systems. They began to generate new energy — information, creating its potentially infinite variety, to which the human brain has not yet grown. A human being is essentially very inertial. But in the case of electronic communication, he was suddenly ahead of the rest. And now this result cannot be unambiguously estimated, either as a positive nor as a negative.


Baron, N. (2009, March). Are Digital Media Changing Language? ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar09/vol66/num06/Are-Digital-Media-Changing-Language¢.aspx

Baron, N. (2017, December 6). Why Reading On A Screen Is Bad For Critical Thinking. Huffpost. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/read-on-screen-learning_b_6681500?guccounter=1

Carr, N. (2008, August). Is Google Making Us Stupid? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Winston, M., Edelbach, R. (1998). Society, Ethics, and Technology. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=g9g-MTzCIJ0C&pg=PA282&lpg=PA282&dq=Italian+humanists+talked+about+the+future+intellectual+laziness&source=bl&ots=QMRO8wbLj8&sig=ACfU3U1-XLc19l6WFm24sDL-45MLv3g-mQ&hl=en&ppis=_e&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj50KfevKjlAhXLZd8KHWHaDZsQ6AEwAHoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Italian%20humanists%20talked%20about%20the%20future%20intellectual%20laziness&f=false

Oct 19

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 https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-1

Grawert, A. (2017, April 18). Crime Trends: 1990-2016. BC. Retrieved from https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/crime-trends-1990-2016#targetText=Crime%20is%20often%20driven%20by,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 http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

Oct 19

Issue in the Legal System

One issue that is present within the legal system is false identifications. False ID’s typically stem from police lineups and photographic lineups. There are many situations where even the most confident eyewitness can mistake the identity of the accused. After all, while observing a crime, an eyewitness often has a very short period of time to observe what’s happening, let alone remember specific details of the offender’s appearance. In fact, where a weapon is involved, eyewitnesses tend to focus more on the weapon than on the person holding it.

Individuals in a lineup who look like the victims attacker are likely to get accused even when that specific person is innocent. This was the case in 1984, when Ronald Cotton was convicted of raping Jennifer Thompson. Jennifer positively identified Ronald from a photo lineup and a live lineup as the man who raped her (Gruman, et al., 2017). He was sentenced to life in prison as a result of Jennifer’s positive ID. After 11 years of serving his sentence, Ronald Cotton was released and found not guilty of raping Jennifer. A man named Bobby Poole rapped Jennifer and that was confirmed by a DNA test. Ronald Cotton was in prison for 11 years for a crime he did not commit because of a false ID that was a result from a police and photo lineup.

Another case where police lineups were to blame for a conviction was the case of Otis Boone. He maintained his innocence from the time he was accused of two robberies in 2011. The two victims picked Otis Boone out of separate police lineups and as a result was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, even with no psychical evidence. He appealed to “New York’s highest court where the majority of judges ruled that the jury should have been told that witnesses often struggle to identify strangers of a different race because mistaken identifications are a major factor in wrongful convictions. Mr. Boone is black; the victims were white” (Southall, 2019). The court granted him a retrial and made it mandatory that the judges must explain the cross-race effect to jurors whenever a case involves a witness identifying of a suspect of a different race. At the trial his public defender presented evidence that Otis Boone was over a mile away from one of the robberies five minutes before it occurred. He was acquitted and spent 7 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

According to the Innocence Project, “About 70 percent of the 364 convictions overturned with DNA evidence in the United States since 1992 involved witnesses who identified the wrong assailant, and nearly half of those mistaken identifications involved a witness and suspect of different races” (Southall, 2019). This is obviously very concerning because it could happen to anyone. The Innocence Project presents a few ways in which the accuracy of eyewitness identification can be improved. One way is to use the double blind method. This method is designed to prevent the administration of the lineup from providing inadvertent or intentional verbal or nonverbal cues to influence the eyewitness to pick the suspect.This is done by the administrator and eyewitnesses not knowing who the suspect is. It is important to use methods such as the double blind method when carrying out lineups because it is preventing innocent people from being convicted.



Eyewitness Identification Reform. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.innocenceproject.org/eyewitness-identification-reform/.

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE.

Southall, A. (2019, March 18). A Black Man Spent 7 Years in Prison. Then a Court Changed the Rules on Racial Bias. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/nyregion/cross-race-identification-witness.html.

Oct 19

Can Algorithms Predict Crime?

The origin of criminal behavior has been much debated over the years as some believe there to be a biological basis that makes people more prone to committing and others deem one’s environment to be responsible for causing crime (Gruman, et al., 2017).  Is there a certain gene that when expressed causes people to commit crime or is it due to a hormonal imbalance in the brain that pushes one towards a life of crime?  Alternatively, do people blame one’s upbringing, their friends and their families as the reason why someone commits a crime?  If society is to blame for crime, can we somehow analyze societal trends in order to predict crime?  The city of Bristol has attempted to answer this question by implementing an algorithm that tells how likely each citizen is in being a victim or a perpetrator of a crime (Booth, 2019).

Approximately 170,000 citizens of Bristol are listed in a database that assesses the possibility of each person being involved in a child abuse or kidnapping crime (Booth, 2019).  In addition, this algorithm determines how likely a person will behave and take part in antisocial behavior.  This may seem surprising; however, the algorithm utilizes information such as past criminal behavior, gang membership, domestic violence and school truancy in order to predict criminal activity.  The reason this new method has become so helpful to society is because it uncovers information about people quicker than many psychologists and therapists could have found if they met with each person.  Police and local government can pinpoint certain areas at high risk for people to commit crime and either increase police presence or bring in more counselors to talk to people in the area about their antisocial behavior (Booth, 2019).  In addition, if someone appears to be at high risk for criminal behavior and are already seeing a counselor, then the counselor can be notified and deal with the person appropriately.  So far, the algorithm has proved to be a success as they studied five people who were the victims of sexual exploitation.  Three of the five individuals were in the top 100 list of people in the area who were at high risk of becoming victims and the other two were also high up on the list of potential victims (Booth, 2019).  Although this algorithm seems promising for other towns to use, it does not mean that it is 100 % effective.  Even though 3 of the people were on the most at- risk list, it would be difficult to reach out to every person on the list and talk to them about avoiding situations where they can be exploited.  In addition, the algorithm may report a person to be at high risk for committing crime, but it may be wrong and could hurt people in the process.  Also, this does not mean that all other forms of protection including the police and the legal system are less important because humans are better able to understand a real- world situation and talk to at risk people rather than a computer algorithm that uses certain patterns to predict crime.  The algorithm utilized by Bristol is very promising as it can look at trends in behavior such as truancy and past antisocial behavior in order to prevent crimes as well as help those at risk receive the proper attention for them to get better.

This new technology uses the social psychological and the sociological theories of criminal behavior in order to find those in society who pose a risk to other people.  Sociology uses ideas such as anomie, socioeconomic status, neighborhoods and education and attempts to understand how they relate to criminal behavior (Gruman, et al., 2017).  Researchers have found that those who come from a lower socioeconomic status and who report feeling more alone and isolated in society have higher rates of criminal behavior.  In addition, social psychology theories such as the general personality and social psychological model (Gruman, et al., 2017) of criminal behavior implicate that those who have not completed school or have a low degree are risk factors that can increase the likelihood of criminal activity.  Also, those who have been associated in the past with people who have criminal records are also more likely to commit a crime.  These ideas paint an accurate depiction of proven trends that is found amongst those convicted of a crime.  If a town wants to make their community safer and protect the innocent then using an algorithm that finds those who fit the typical characteristics of a criminal can allow police and counselors to find them and rehabilitate them so they can function normally in society.

-Madison Laezzo


Booth, R. (2019). How Bristol assesses citizens’ risk of harm – using an algorithm. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/oct/15/bristol-algorithm-assess-citizens-risk-harm-guide-frontline-staff.

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE.

Skip to toolbar