Section 1.2: The Mythology of Criminal Justice

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Criminology, the study of crime, is like being a detective, but instead of solving crimes, you’re figuring out why they happen. It’s really important to separate myths from facts in this field. Sometimes, what we think we know about crime and criminals isn’t really true. Professor Marcus Felson called these misunderstandings “Ten Fallacies about Crime.” He said that sometimes, our strong feelings about crime make us see things in a not-so-accurate way (Felson, 2002).

Table of Contents

Beyond Just One Perspective

Felson’s ideas are super important, but they’re just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Let’s look at some other common myths in criminology:

The Over-Policing Fallacy

This idea challenges whether having more police officers around actually reduces crime (Walker, 2018).

The Deterrence Fallacy

This one questions if giving harsher punishments really makes people less likely to commit crimes (Tonry, 2004).

The Single-Cause Fallacy

This fallacy reminds us that crime isn’t caused by just one thing; it’s a lot more complicated (Akers & Sellers, 2009).

The Hardened Criminal Fallacy

This concept looks at whether criminals can change over time (Maruna, 2001).

The Poverty Equals Crime Fallacy

Does being poor mean someone is more likely to commit a crime? This fallacy explores that question (Hsieh & Pugh, 1993).

The Crime Wave Fallacy

This idea questions whether crime rates are really always going up (Zimring, 2007).

The Homogeneous Offender Fallacy

This fallacy reminds us that not all criminals are the same; there’s a lot of variety (Snodgrass et al., 2009).

The Crime and Morality Fallacy

Lastly, this fallacy looks at whether crime is just about moral decay (Harris, 2001).

By examining these myths, we get a clearer picture of what crime is really about. This helps us make better decisions about how to handle criminal justice issues.

πŸ” Reflect

Why do you think it’s important to challenge common beliefs about crime? How can understanding these fallacies help us in real life?

Decoding Felson’s Fallacies

In the world of criminology, Professor Marcus Felson introduced some eye-opening ideas about common misconceptions we have about crime. Let’s break down these fallacies and see what they really mean.

The Dramatic Fallacy

Ever notice how TV and news often show a lot of violent crimes? Felson calls this the “Dramatic Fallacy.” It makes us think these crimes happen more than they actually do. He talks about the “Horror-Distortion Sequence,” where the media picks extreme crimes to grab our attention, but this warps our view of how common these crimes are (Felson, 2002).

The Cops and Courts Fallacy

This fallacy is about thinking the police and courts can stop all crime. Felson points out that police work is more about reacting to crimes than stopping them before they happen. Also, not all crimes end with an arrest or someone going to jail, questioning how much punishment really stops crime (Felson, 2002).

The Not Me Fallacy

Here, Felson challenges the idea that only “certain” people commit crimes. He suggests that under certain conditions, anyone might break the law. This fallacy makes us rethink the difference between criminals and everyone else, showing that anyone has the potential to commit a crime (Felson, 2002).

The Innocent Youth Fallacy

This one is about the belief that young people are naturally innocent and only corrupted by adults. Felson shows that criminal behavior often spikes in the teenage years, suggesting that peers, not just adults, influence youth (Felson, 2002).

The Ingenuity Fallacy

Contrary to what movies show us, Felson says that most crimes don’t need a genius to pull them off. They’re usually simple and opportunistic, not elaborate plans by criminal masterminds (Felson, 2002).

The Organized Crime Fallacy

Think all crime is like in the movies, with big, well-organized groups? Felson argues that’s not true. Most crimes are spontaneous and not part of some big conspiracy (Felson, 2002).

The Juvenile Gang Fallacy

This fallacy debunks the idea that juvenile gangs are super organized and control local crime. In reality, many gangs are pretty disorganized and not as cohesive as we might think (Felson, 2002).

The Welfare State Fallacy

Here, Felson questions the link between social issues like poverty and crime. He suggests that crime is influenced by many factors, not just socio-economic conditions (Felson, 2002).

The Agenda Fallacy

Felson’s Agenda Fallacy looks at the belief that crime is mainly about morality or political systems failing. He argues that crime prevention is much more complex than just teaching morality or expecting political changes to fix everything (Felson, 2002).

The Whatever-You-Think Fallacy

Finally, this fallacy addresses the idea that crime is just a social construct with no real definition. Felson argues for a more concrete understanding of crime based on evidence rather than subjective views (Felson, 2002).

πŸ” Reflect

How do these fallacies challenge our usual perceptions of crime? Can understanding these misconceptions change the way we approach crime prevention and justice?

Rethinking the Over-Policing Fallacy

In the world of crime prevention, there’s a common belief that just adding more police officers will automatically make our streets safer. This idea is what we call the “Over-Policing Fallacy.” It sounds straightforward, but the truth is a bit more complicated.

Misconception of Policing Effectiveness

It seems logical to think that more police means less crime, right? But it’s not that simple. The effectiveness of police in preventing crime depends on a lot of factors, like what kind of crime we’re talking about, how the police work, and where they’re doing their job (Walker, 2018). For example, having more police walking around might stop someone from shoplifting, but it won’t do much to stop crimes like embezzlement or domestic violence.

Also, just adding more police doesn’t always mean people feel safer. In some places, especially where there’s a history of tension with law enforcement, over-policing can backfire. People might start feeling like they’re being watched all the time, not protected. This can make them less likely to work with the police, which actually makes it harder to stop crime.

Community Impact

The effect of too much policing on communities is huge. If people feel like they’re being overly policed rather than protected, they might lose trust in law enforcement. This can lead to them not reporting crimes or helping with investigations (Walker, 2018). It’s like a domino effect – less trust means less cooperation, which makes it even harder to prevent crimes.

Over-policing can also turn small issues into big problems. If police are everywhere, they might end up dealing with minor things in a big way, leading to unnecessary arguments or arrests. This doesn’t just hurt the relationship between the community and the police; it also takes away resources from dealing with more serious crimes.

In areas where people feel like the police are unfairly targeting them, it can create a cycle of mistrust and even more crime. That’s why it’s so important to have a balance. Law enforcement should be about working with communities, understanding their needs, and solving problems together, not just about having more officers on the streets.

πŸ” Reflect

How might the idea of over-policing change our view on the best ways to keep communities safe? What are some ways police can build trust with the communities they serve?

Unpacking the Deterrence Fallacy

Is Tougher Punishment Always the Answer?

In the field of criminal justice, there’s a long-standing belief that harsher punishments will scare people away from committing crimes. This idea is what we call the “Deterrence Fallacy.” It’s a big part of why some countries have really strict laws. But what if this isn’t the best way to stop crime?

Limits of Punishment

The whole point of deterrence is to make people think twice about breaking the law because they’re afraid of the consequences. It sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t always work out in practice. Studies have found that what really stops people from committing crimes is not how harsh the punishment is but how likely they are to get caught (Tonry, 2004). Plus, some people who commit crimes don’t think about the long-term effects, like those acting in the heat of the moment or struggling with addiction.

Also, giving really long sentences, especially for smaller crimes, can cause more problems than it solves. Prisons get overcrowded, they cost a lot to run, and they can make life really hard for people who’ve been in them. When someone gets out of prison, they might find it tough to get back into normal life, which can lead them to commit more crimes.

Effectiveness of Rehabilitation

Instead of just trying to scare people with punishments, what if we focused on helping them? Rehabilitation means dealing with the reasons why people commit crimes, like drug problems, not having enough education, or mental health issues. Programs that help with these things can actually stop people from reoffending.

Research shows that things like job training, counseling, and community programs can work better at reducing crime than just punishment (Tonry, 2004). These approaches get to the root of the problem and offer long-term solutions.

Rehabilitation is also about helping offenders become part of society again. When they learn new skills and ways to cope, they’re more likely to stay out of trouble once they’re out of prison.

To wrap up, while punishment is important, it shouldn’t be the only thing we focus on. The Deterrence Fallacy reminds us that we need a mix of punishment and help, not just to punish people but to give them a chance to change and be part of society again.

πŸ” Reflect

How does understanding the Deterrence Fallacy change your view on punishment and rehabilitation? What kind of balance should we strive for in the criminal justice system?

Exploring the Single-Cause Fallacy

Crime: More Than Just One Cause

In criminology, there’s a common mistake people make called the “Single-Cause Fallacy.” This is the idea that one single thing causes someone to commit a crime. But crime is way more complicated than that. It’s usually a mix of many different things that lead someone to break the law.

Complexity of Criminal Behavior

Think of criminal behavior as a puzzle with lots of pieces. It’s not just one thing that makes someone commit a crime. Instead, it’s a combination of things like their biology, mind, where they live, their friends and family, and their money situation.

  • Biological factors: These are things like genes that might make someone more likely to act a certain way. But just having these genes doesn’t mean someone will definitely commit a crime. It depends on their life and what’s around them.
  • Psychological factors: This includes things like mental health issues or addiction. They’re important, but they don’t tell the whole story. Not everyone with these issues turns to crime.
  • Socioeconomic factors: Problems like not having enough money or a job can be linked to more crime. But again, not everyone in these situations ends up breaking the law.

Interplay of Factors

It’s like a chain reaction. Maybe someone who tends to act on impulse (a biological factor) ends up in a bad situation with friends (a social factor) and starts using drugs (a psychological factor). All these things together might lead to criminal behavior.

The environment matters too. Things like how a community is set up, family life, and cultural values can push someone towards or away from crime. Having good support, role models, and opportunities can make a big difference in whether or not someone ends up committing a crime.

So, understanding crime isn’t about looking for one big reason. It’s about seeing all the different factors and how they work together. This helps us get a better idea of why crimes happen and how we can prevent them.

πŸ” Reflect

How does recognizing the complexity of criminal behavior change the way we think about crime and how to prevent it? What kinds of programs or policies might help address the various factors that lead to crime?

Debunking the Hardened Criminal Fallacy

Not All Criminals Are Forever Criminals

In criminology, there’s a common myth called the “Hardened Criminal Fallacy.” This is the idea that once someone commits a crime, they’re stuck on a path of never-ending criminal behavior. But this view is too simple and misses out on the real story of crime and change.

Criminal Careers

The truth is, people who commit crimes don’t all have the same story. Some might only break the law for a short time because of things like being young, having money problems, or hanging out with the wrong crowd. The idea that a criminal’s behavior always gets worse over time doesn’t match up with what researchers have found.

Life changes a lot, and these changes can lead people away from crime. Getting older, having new responsibilities like a job or a family, or just different life situations can make someone stop committing crimes. This shows us that criminal behavior isn’t a one-way street.

Potential for Change

It’s important to remember that people can change. Many individuals who have been involved in crime can turn their lives around, especially if they get the right kind of help. Things like education programs, job training, and therapy can make a big difference.

Studies have shown that when people who have committed crimes get support like this, they’re less likely to go back to crime. This idea of helping rather than just punishing is at the heart of restorative justice. It’s about fixing the harm done and helping people become part of society again rather than writing them off as lost causes.

So, the Hardened Criminal Fallacy doesn’t really tell the whole story. People’s paths in life can change, and understanding this can help us create better ways to deal with crime and help those who have gone down the wrong path.

πŸ” Reflect

How does understanding the potential for change in criminals affect our views on justice and rehabilitation? What kinds of support could be most effective in helping offenders turn their lives around?

Rethinking the Poverty Equals Crime Fallacy

Crime: More Than Just a Poverty Issue

In criminology, there’s a common thought called the “Poverty Equals Crime Fallacy.” This is the idea that being poor automatically leads to committing crimes. While money problems can play a part in why people break the law, it’s not as simple as saying poverty equals crime.

Socioeconomic Factors

The link between being poor and criminal behavior is a big topic in criminology. Yes, sometimes, when people are struggling financially, they might turn to crime as a way out. But it’s not a rule that everyone in poverty will commit crimes. There are other important things to think about, like how fair society is, if people feel left out, or if they have the same chances as others.

Also, the types of crimes people commit can depend on where they stand financially. For example, someone who’s really struggling might get involved in small thefts or drug crimes, while someone with more money might commit crimes like fraud.

Other Contributing Factors

It’s super important to look at other things that can lead to crime, not just how much money someone has. Education is a big one. If people don’t have good chances to learn and get jobs, they might see crime as a way to get by.

Family life matters too. If a family is going through tough times, like not getting along or worse, it can make it more likely for kids to get into trouble. On the flip side, a supportive family can help keep someone away from crime.

Community resources are key as well. When neighborhoods have things like youth programs, mental health help, and job support, they offer people other choices besides crime.

So, the idea that poverty directly causes crime is too simple. To really understand why crimes happen, we have to look at all the different things that can play a part, like money, education, family, and community support.

πŸ” Reflect

How does understanding the complex relationship between poverty and crime change our approach to preventing crime? What role can education, family support, and community resources play in reducing crime rates?

Understanding the Crime Wave Fallacy

Is Crime Really Always on the Rise?

In the study of crime, there’s a widespread belief called the “Crime Wave Fallacy.” This is the idea that crime is always getting worse, but this belief might not match up with what’s really happening.

Perception vs. Reality

How we think about crime is often shaped by the news and what people talk about, which usually focuses on the most shocking or unusual crimes. This can make us believe that crime is always going up and getting more serious. But the actual numbers might tell a different story.

For example, in lots of places, the data show that crimes, especially violent ones, have been going down or staying the same over the years (Zimring, 2007). Still, many people think crime is getting worse. This gap between what people believe and the real stats can lead to unnecessary fear and might cause us to make overly strict laws.

Statistical Understanding

Understanding crime stats correctly is super important. Crime rates can change because of lots of things, like new ways of reporting crimes, changes in laws, or shifts in society. Sometimes, more crimes are reported not because there are more crimes happening, but because people are better at reporting them or because what counts as a crime has changed.

Also, we need to look at crime stats in the right way. Short-term ups and downs in crime rates are normal and don’t always show the big picture. Long-term trends give us a clearer idea of what’s really happening with crime. And it’s important to see what kinds of crimes are being reported because the changes might be different for different types of crime.

So, the Crime Wave Fallacy reminds us to be careful about how we think about crime rates. We need to look closely at the numbers and the bigger picture to really understand crime trends and how to respond to them.

πŸ” Reflect

How does realizing the Crime Wave Fallacy impact our views on crime and safety in society? What can be done to ensure public perceptions of crime are more aligned with the actual data?

Breaking Down the Homogeneous Offender Fallacy

Every Criminal Has a Different Story

In criminology, there’s a misconception known as the “Homogeneous Offender Fallacy.” It’s the idea that all people who commit crimes are pretty much the same in terms of their backgrounds, reasons, and personalities. But this way of thinking is too simple and misses the real diversity among offenders.

Diversity Among Offenders

People who commit crimes come from all kinds of places and have different stories. Some might turn to crime because they really need money, others might be influenced by their friends, and some might be dealing with mental health issues or addiction.

Thinking that all offenders are the same ignores this variety. It’s like comparing someone who steals because they’re hungry to someone who commits fraud for profit. These are completely different situations, and they need different kinds of responses in terms of help, punishment, and prevention.

Individual Differences

The fact that offenders are so different from each other is really important for how we handle crime. If we treat all criminals the same, we’re not going to be very effective, and we might even make things worse. What works for one person might not work for another.

This means we need different plans for different kinds of criminals. For example, young people who get into trouble might need a different approach than adults. And the way we deal with someone who’s just committed their first crime might not be right for someone who keeps breaking the law.

So, the Homogeneous Offender Fallacy shows us that we can’t just lump all criminals together. We need to understand and respond to their individual differences if we want to be effective in preventing and dealing with crime.

πŸ” Reflect

How can recognizing the diversity among offenders change the way we approach crime prevention and rehabilitation? What might be some effective strategies for addressing the unique needs of different types of offenders?

Unraveling the Crime and Morality Fallacy

Crime: It’s Not Just About Right and Wrong

The “Crime and Morality Fallacy” is a common misunderstanding in criminology. It’s the idea that criminal behavior is mostly about losing moral values. But this view is too simple and doesn’t consider the many reasons why people might commit crimes.

Moral Judgments

Saying that crime is just about being morally bad oversimplifies things. It turns crime into a black-and-white issue of good versus evil, ignoring the complex reasons behind criminal actions. Sure, morals and ethics influence how we behave, but they’re only part of the story.

There are many reasons people might break the law, like needing money, dealing with mental health problems, struggling with addiction, or reacting to their environment. For example, someone who steals food to feed their family might be doing it out of need, not because they’re a bad person. When we only focus on morals, we miss the bigger picture and the real solutions that could help.

Broader Societal Factors

There are a lot of big-picture things that affect crime, like the economy, how fair society is, the resources available to people, and how the justice system works.

For instance, when the economy’s not doing well, we might see more crimes, but not because everyone suddenly becomes less moral. It’s often because people are struggling more and have fewer chances to improve their lives. And the way society is set up, including things like education and community support, can really impact crime rates.

So, the Crime and Morality Fallacy reminds us that understanding crime is about more than just judging right from wrong. It’s about looking at all the different factors, big and small, that lead to criminal behavior.

πŸ” Reflect

Why is it important to look beyond moral judgments when trying to understand crime? What role do societal factors play in influencing criminal behavior, and how can addressing these factors help in crime prevention and rehabilitation?

Summary and Conclusions

Criminology, often akin to detective work, is not just about solving crimes but understanding their origins. We’ve navigated through the landscape of common misconceptions, guided by the insights of Professor Marcus Felson and others, challenging the simplistic views often held about crime and criminal behavior.

Broadening Perspectives Beyond Felson

While Felson’s “Ten Fallacies about Crime” set a foundational tone, our exploration extended into a wider range of fallacies, each debunking oversimplifications in criminology:

  • The Over-Policing Fallacy: More police presence doesn’t necessarily mean less crime (Walker, 2018).
  • The Deterrence Fallacy: Harsher punishments don’t always deter crime (Tonry, 2004).
  • The Single-Cause Fallacy: Crime results from a complex mix of factors, not just one (Akers & Sellers, 2009).
  • The Hardened Criminal Fallacy: Criminals can change over time (Maruna, 2001).
  • The Poverty Equals Crime Fallacy: Poverty isn’t a direct cause of crime (Hsieh & Pugh, 1993).
  • The Crime Wave Fallacy: Crime rates aren’t always rising (Zimring, 2007).
  • The Homogeneous Offender Fallacy: Not all criminals are alike (Snodgrass et al., 2009).
  • The Crime and Morality Fallacy: Crime is more than just moral decay (Harris, 2001).

Moving Towards a Scientific Approach in Criminology

These fallacies pave the way for the next chapter, “Criminology and Science.” The debunking of these myths underscores the importance of empirical, evidence-based approaches in criminology. As we move forward, we’ll delve into how scientific methods and rigorous research provide deeper insights and more effective strategies for understanding and combating crime.

Reflecting on Criminology’s Path

This journey challenges us to reconsider our perceptions of crime and justice. By understanding these fallacies, we can approach crime prevention and criminal justice with more nuanced, informed perspectives. This shift is vital for developing policies and practices that are not only effective but also fair and empathetic towards the diverse stories in the realm of crime.


  • Akers, R. L., & Sellers, C. S. (2009). Criminological theories: Introduction, evaluation, and application. Oxford University Press.
  • Felson, M. (2002). Crime and everyday life. Sage Publications.
  • Harris, M. (2001). Theories of culture in postmodern times. AltaMira Press.
  • Hsieh, C. C., & Pugh, M. D. (1993). Poverty, income inequality, and violent crime: A meta-analysis of recent aggregate data studies. Criminal Justice Review, 18(2), 182-202.
  • Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. American Psychological Association.
  • Snodgrass, G. M., Blokland, A. A., Haviland, A., Nieuwbeerta, P., & Ullrich, S. (2009). Toward a criminology of criminal-law making: A study of criminal-law making in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research,
  • 15(4), 263-284.
  • Tonry, M. (2004). Thinking about crime: Sense and sensibility in American penal culture. Oxford University Press.
  • Walker, S. (2018). The police in America: An introduction. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Zimring, F. E. (2007). The great American crime decline. Oxford University Press.
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