Juvenile delinquency can be looked at as behavior that acts contrary to the already established norms and laws of society.
For many decades juvenile delinquency has featured in the literature that concerns criminal behavior. Juvenile delinquency is a phenomenon in a society that appears to be apparently complicated somehow because it has been perceived from different perspectives by various disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and even law.
It is the violation of the established laws concerning this phenomenon that studies have been developed to try and identify the methods that are used to accurately measure the acts of Juvenile delinquencies. From the measurement, it is then that preventive mechanisms can be initiated. The problem of juvenile delinquency is shared by the federal government, the local government, and the entire public. (Schmalleger 2008)
Juvenile crime rates seem to have fallen since the 1990s according to statistics. But there is still concern by the various states. Measuring the extent of juvenile delinquency acts is vital for the purpose of coming up with better policies that are supposed to prevent these unwanted social behaviors.
Whichever approach is used to measure these acts the overall aim is to provide accurate and up-to-date statistics that can be used for addressing the problem of juvenile delinquency. (Hindelang 1981)
Methodologies for measuring acts of juvenile delinquencies
There are three most common methods of measuring the extent of crime amongst the juveniles namely;
- Uniform crime reports
- Victimization surveys
- Self-report surveys
Uniform crime reports
Uniform crime reports are by far the most common source of information for the government about juvenile delinquency.
They are the best-known sources of information and statistics on criminal activities among juveniles. They came into existence in the year 1930.
An estimated 98% of policemen in the United States are said to participate in these uniform crime reports.
The reports cover around 95% of the United States and collect information as regards the number of crimes reported to the police, the characteristics and number of offenders arrested, and other additional information which is relevant.
In these reports, two sets of data are collected. The first set is about acts or offenses that are reported to the police and information is collected on index crimes. This is known as an index or crime one.
It includes violent and non –violent crimes, for instance, violent crimes can be in the form of homicide, forcible rape, robbery, or assault; while non-violent crimes include burglary, pilfering, car theft, arson, or larceny. The second set of data concerns the numbers and characteristics in terms of age gender or even ethnicity of the juveniles who are arrested. (Schmalleger 2008)
This is also known as part II or non – index crimes.
On average about 20% of index crimes reported are normally cleared by arrest and this is a lower proportion to the non – index crimes.
According to arrest data, the number of arrests that were made due to juvenile crime can be obtained This data is normally reported in the federal bureau of investigations from all localities across the country. State and federal legislators, the broadcast and print news media, and state and local policymakers most commonly pass on to these FBI data in tracking juvenile delinquency trends and in making policy changes
Arrest data show the acts of juvenile delinquency and also how society responds to the cases. Charged with the authority the police choose to make arrests based on (Gold 1970).
In the measurement of crime acts arrests data has shown that after some years of stability the violent juvenile delinquency arrests began to increase in the 1980s
In terms of merits, uniform crime records remain the best way of measuring crime in the United States. Apart from being easy to access the method is less expensive. It also allows simple comparisons of juvenile crimes within cities and states.
The weaknesses of this method include the fact that it only reports serious offenses while ignoring minor crimes. Another disadvantage is that the number of juvenile offenders arrested does not equal the number of crimes committed thus there is a tendency of this method to overestimate the juvenile crimes and especially with group arrests.
It is also important to point out that the quality of the data can be put into question because in some instances the police have tended to exaggerate their reports and they also differ in their arrest practices.
The self-report method is another major way of measuring involvement in delinquent and criminal behavior. The basic approach of the self-report method involves asking individuals to speak out if they have engaged in delinquent or criminal behavior, and if so, how often they have been doing the acts.
This method of data collection has been used extensively both within the United States and abroad (Klein 1989). Because of its common use, quite often there is loss of sight of the major effect that self-report studies have had on the research concerning the distribution and patterns of crime and criminal behavior, the etiology of juvenile delinquency, and the juvenile justice system, including the police and courts.
Since its introduction and early studies, this self-report methodology has become sophisticated in its design structure, therefore, making it more reliable and valid such that its applicability has been extended to innumerable activities or issues.
Self-report procedures of delinquent actions have highly developed remarkably in the 30-odd years since their introduction ( Thornberry 1989 347–350). The prototypical “early” self-reported delinquency scale was established by Short and Nye (1957; Nye and Short 1957).
Many surveys have been conducted by utilizing the advantage that schools are the most convenient locations for data collection.however with this approach they miss out on capturing the real perpetrators of crime. For instance, those who are out of school because of a number of reasons including dropouts or illness.
Many questionnaires use in the surveys to collect information about delinquents that cannot be considered to be very serious to the police and some do not collect the serious crimes like the FBI index crimes.
Since its preface by Short and Nye, substantial attention has been paid to the development and improvement of the psychometric properties of the self-report method.
The most stylish and dominant work was done by Elliott and his colleagues (Elliott and Ageton 1980; Elliott, Huizinga, and Ageton 1985; Huizinga and Elliott 1986) and by Hindelang, Hirschi, and Weis (1979,1981).
From their work, a set of distinctiveness for acceptable (i.e., reasonably valid and reliable) self-report scales has emerged. Four of the most outstanding personality are the inclusion of a wide array of delinquency items, serious offenses, frequency response sets, and follow up questions..(Hindelang 1981)
Critical evaluation of the self-report method has identified a number of shortcomings that ought to be addressed.
Self-report scales needs to include a wide variety of delinquent acts so that the general domain of delinquency, as well as its various subdomains, is satisfactorily represented
Serious as well as minor criminal behaviors should be included in the scale.
A frequency scale should be put in place to record responses so that high-rate offenders can be cut off from low-rate offenders.
Extremely trivial, no actionable acts that are reported should be recognized and eliminated from the data.
Victimization data can be collected from the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the Bureau of justice and statistics. Victims’ reports have been scientifically collected since 1973 in the National Crime Victimization Survey. Using a national delegate sample of households, victims over the age of 12 report their experiences with specific crimes (rape, sexual assault, personal from this source for homicides, victims under the age of about offenders is available from these records only for crimes involving contact between victim and criminal.
Surveys can also be conducted on youths concerning their experience in delinquent acts for instance the youths can be asked if they have been hurt from an assault or robbery incidence. Injuries can be considered serious if they involved a cut, bleeding, being knocked unconscious, or being hospitalized.
From such surveys, the number and nature of the crime committed by the juvenile can be measured using the appropriate tools.
Estimates of juvenile crimes depend on the victims’ estimates of age. Crimes with more than one victim may have numerous reports in these records.
Particular crimes are normally committed by more than one juvenile offender and this has an impact by distorting the connection between the criminal and the crime and this also affects the measurement of criminal behavior amongst the juveniles..(Hindelang 1981)
In conclusion, for any method to be effective and scientifically worthwhile, it has to possess the two vital features of validity and reliability.
Reliability refers to the extent to which a measuring procedure yields the same result on repeated trials. For instance, if a bathroom scale were reliable, it would yield the same reading of your weight if you got on and off that scale 10 times in a row. If it were unreliable, the reading of your weight would vary somewhat, even though your true weight would not change in the space of time it would take you to get on and off the scale 10 times. No measure is completely, flawlessly reliable. Repeated use of a measuring apparatus will always produce some variation from one application to another.
That difference can be very slight to quite large. So the central question in assessing the reliability of self-reported delinquency measures is not whether the measure is reliable but how reliable it is; consistency is always a substance of degree. (Akers 1964)
Validity is a much more theoretical notion than is dependability. The best definition of validity is something like as follows: A measure is valid to the extent to which it measures the thought you set out to measure, and nothing else. Whereas reliability focuses on a particular property of the measure that is, its stability over repeated uses validity concerns the crucial relationship between the theoretical concept you are attempting to determine and what you actually measure.
Schmalleger, F. & Bartollas, C. (2008). Juvenile Delinquency. Pearson Education, Inc.
Akers, Robert L. 1964. Socio-economic status and delinquent behavior: A retest. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 1:38–46.
Gold, M. 1970. Delinquent behavior in an American city. Belmont, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Snyder, H.N., and M. Sickmund, Juvenile, Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999.
Hindelang, M.J., T. Hirschi, and J.G. Weis. 1981. Measuring delinquency. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.