In analyzing juvenile delinquency, which of the following sources of data is most reliable: official data, self-reported data or victimization data? How would one defend the kind of methodology that is used to collect the data?

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Drawing conclusions on a topic with as many variables as the causes of and potential responses to juvenile delinquency cannot rely upon only one source of information or data.  Any conclusions drawn from analysis relying on a single source of information when other pertinent sources are available are almost certainly going to prove highly fallible.  That is certainly true when studying crime, including crime committed by minors.  Different sources of information, whether victims of crime, perpetrators, law enforcement officers, or sociologists, carry with them both unique perspectives and unique biases.  If one were to analyzing a single particular crime committed by a juvenile, one would need to interview all relevant parties, including victim and perpetrator, to be able to assemble the pieces of the puzzle that, when finished, will hopefully provide a relatively clear picture of the circumstances under which the crime occurred.  Those circumstances could include facts pertinent to the history of the juvenile, for example, whether he or she was a victim of parental abuse or bullied in school or was raised in a household by parents with drug and/or alcohol addictions.  Juveniles who grow up in “perfectly” normal homes with loving parents, siblings, pets and every material comfort similarly commit crimes, the understanding of which requires study of the juvenile delinquent. 

Continuing to analyze that one particular crime would logically entail interviewing the victim, if possible, to determine whether there was a prior history of conflict or other interaction between victim and perpetrator or whether the victim represented a category of individual for whom the perpetrator was statistically likely to target.  Investigating law enforcement officers should be interviewed for any information they can provide – for example, does the juvenile in question have a prior history of negative interaction with the police or was he or she known for associating with a group identified with criminal activity.   Finally, review of data provided by state and federal government agencies responsible for tracking crime would provide a useful context into which individual cases can be analyzed.  In short, a sound methodological approach to studying juvenile delinquency involves exploitation of ALL sources of information and data.  The sociological approach of analyzing the delinquent’s background is essential to understanding the origins of the criminal activity and working to prevent future occurrences.  Studying victim data can help identify any patterns that suggest an approach to preventing future instances of juvenile delinquency, and analyzing all of this information in the context of broader regional or national trends can help identify areas of particular need.  It is all valuable information from the perspective of the researcher, and conclusions that omit any one category will be incomplete.

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