Ethical practice and evaluation of interventions in crime and justice: The moral imperative for randomized trials

David Weisburd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


In considering the ethical dilemmas associated with randomized experiments, scholars ordinarily focus on the ways in which randomization of treatments or interventions violates accepted norms of conduct of social science research more generally or evaluation of crime and justice questions more specifically. The weight of ethical judgment is thus put on experimental research to justify meeting ethical standards. In this article, it is argued that just the opposite should be true, and that in fact there is a moral imperative for the conduct of randomized experiments in crime and justice. That imperative develops from our professional obligation to provide valid answers to questions about the effectiveness of treatments, practices, and programs. It is supported by a statistical argument that makes randomized experiments the preferred method for ruling out alternative causes of the outcomes observed. Common objections to experimentation are reviewed and found overall to relate more to the failure to institutionalize experimentation than to any inherent limitations in the experimental method and its application in crime and justice settings. It is argued that the failure of crime and justice practitioners, funders, and evaluators to develop a comprehensive infrastructure for experimental evaluation represents a serious violation of professional standards.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)336-354
Number of pages19
JournalEvaluation Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2003


  • Criminal justice evaluation
  • Ethical practice
  • Experimental criminology
  • Experiments
  • Randomized experiments


Dive into the research topics of 'Ethical practice and evaluation of interventions in crime and justice: The moral imperative for randomized trials'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this