Measuring Juvenile Delinquency: Methods & Trends

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Eric Keith

Dr. Keith holds a PhD in Criminology and has instructed adult and collegiate learners in theory, research, and application of the social sciences.

Examine methods to measure juvenile delinquency to understand its impact on society. See how it is measured, view strengths and weaknesses for uniform crime reports, learn about the national crime victimization survey, explore the self-report survey, and observe trends. Updated: 01/13/2022

Measuring Juvenile Delinquency

Imagine you're a crime analyst tasked with preparing statistics on juvenile delinquency and victimization. It's important to know the sources of your data, as well as which are the most reliable and valid for your work. The three instruments that you'll most likely use to collect this data include the following:

  1. The FBI's Uniform Crime Report (or UCR) is a nationwide collection of local and state arrest data known to police, including juvenile arrests. The data consists of the number of arrests and persons arrested for particular crimes based on gender, race, and age group.

  2. Crime victimization surveys, most notably the National Crime Victimization Survey (or NCVS) and the Developmental Victimization Survey (or DVS). The NCVS is an annual nationwide self-report survey of crime victims and the circumstances of their victimization, including personal and household victimization patterns. The DVS is a juvenile-specific, nationwide telephone survey of caregivers or parents of children ranging in ages from 2 to 17, collecting data on 34 types of victimization. It covers specific circumstances of crimes and additional details on the victim and the offender, such as if the offender is known to the victim and the time of day of the crime.

  3. And finally, self-report surveys, particularly the National Youth Survey (or NYS), which collects voluntary information from juveniles ages 11 to 17 about their own individual juvenile crimes.

In your pursuit of juvenile delinquency data as a crime analyst, it's not only important to know which specific measurements to use, it's also important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each one. Let's take a closer look at each data source.

Uniform Crime Report

The UCR Strengths

The UCR is a large, formalized, national collection of arrest crime statistics that allows law enforcement administrators to designate resources and develop strategies to combat crime issues more effectively. The National Incident-Based Reporting System (or NIBRS) is an enhanced UCR reporting system that collects additional information on crimes pertaining to the agency making the arrest, offenders, offenses, property loss, and victim information.

The NIBRS improved the original UCR data by expanding the summary crime statistics to include more specific victim and incident analysis, along with full incident data for all ancillary crimes in addition to serious crimes. It differentiates between individual, household, business, and commercial victims. It also collects data on victims under 12 years old, with a broad range of crime data categories and detailed offender information.

The UCR Weaknesses

The UCR suffers from law enforcement agencies lacking uniform recording methods of the same types of crimes, causing some validity concerns. Law enforcement agencies only report arrest data and offenses known to them, and they tend to only record the most serious crimes or arrests with multiple offenses.

National Crime Victimization Survey

The NCVS Strengths

The NCVS collects data directly related to criminal behavior and detailed information about situational factors pertaining to crimes. It accounts for delinquency not known to police, reasons as to why crimes go unreported, and the changing trends of offender-victim dynamics, which vary based on crime situations and characteristics. The DVS expanded the NCVS to include more detailed analysis of the patterns of victimization in the teenage years by collecting information on conventional crimes, child maltreatment, peer and sibling victimization, and sexual victimization, as well as witness and indirect victimization.

The NCVS Weaknesses

The NCVS is limited to crimes of interest, as opposed to all crimes. It relies solely on victims' accounts of crimes. As a result, data may be rendered unreliable at times due to victim memory errors, errors in recalling how recently a crime occurred, deception, fabrication, juvenile victims' reluctance to share issues with adults, and sampling errors by not accounting fully for vulnerable populations, such as homeless children.

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