Trends in the history of social science dedicated to the study of crime and punishment are presented as a case study supporting F.A. Hayek’s theory of social change. Designing effective social institutions and public policies first requires an accurate vision of how society operates. An accurate model of society further requires scientific methods uniquely suited for the study of human beings as purposeful agents and the study of human institutions as complex social phenomena. If guided by faulty methods, theories are inaccurate and policy outcomes veer from their intentions. Hayek termed such outcomes “abuses of reason”. Aiming to replicate the objectivity of physical sciences via formal modeling and statistical measurement, economists throughout the 20th century imposed an excessively technical vision of human decision-making. Policy failures and social problems resulted. This paper argues that the historical trends of applied social science dedicated to crime and punishment can be understood similarly. Formal modeling and statistical measurement continuously displaced methods more attuned to human intentionality and social complexity. In result, amidst a long-run history of intellectual and political change, US law enforcement and criminal punishment policies became technocratic, and outcomes became disjointed from their stated intentions to promote social order and welfare.