Criminal Justice Research

Criminal Justice Research

Criminal Justice Research

Quality information is very valuable in every institution, and most of this information is obtained through research. Criminal justice is a field in which research can be of great value in various aspects and can be done for various purposes. Criminal justice research is useful in policy making using accurate information, investigating the effect of criminal justice on law enforcement, evaluating the effectiveness of methods used to combat crime, and studying criminal behavior and patterns of crime among others. Various methods can be used to conduct criminal justice research including surveys, observation, experimental and quasi-experimental research, cross sectional research and longitudinal research among others.

Survey research is a quantitative data collection method which is used to solicit information from people. Various types of surveys are conducted to obtain information. They include; in- person interviews also known as personal interviews whereby an interview of the respondent is conducted by the researcher; telephone surveys where a telephone is used to enable communication of the researcher and the respondent; computer surveys which are conducted online using a web based application; focus group surveys where a focus group discussion about the topic of research is held between the researcher and a target group and lastly, self-administered questionnaires whereby the respondent is issued with a questionnaire and they fill it without interacting with the researcher.(Bayens et al, 2011)

The types of survey research describe above have various advantages and disadvantages mainly based on the accuracy of collected data and the cost and efficiency of the method of data collection and as described below.

In person surveys are advantageous when conducting survey research in that the researcher is likely to obtain accurate information since the respondent is limited from giving false information especially regarding age or gender. Another advantage is that follow up can be conducted during the interview to ask questions based on the information given by the respondent. Also, non-verbal cues can be picked during the interview. However, there also exist disadvantages of in person surveys since they may be difficult to carry out when there is a language barrier between the researcher and the respondent. Also, in person surveys are time consuming since they require that both the researcher and the respondent be actively involved in the research. This type of survey is also costly especially when a wide geographical region is involved. In addition to these, respondents may be reluctant to create time in their schedules for an in person interview to be conducted. Finally, respondents may fear to disclose information during in person interviews for fear of being victimized by the researcher based on the information they give. (Vito et al, 2014)

Telephone surveys have various advantages and disadvantages. This type of survey research is advantageous in that it is fast and enables data collection at a time convenient to the respondent hence better cooperation among respondents. Also, the researcher may establish contact with respondents in a wide geographical location. Follow up questions can also be presented to the respondent after the interview. However, this method is costly since the researcher has to pay for airtime to facilitate communication with the respondent. Also, the researcher may not obtain accurate information since the respondent may provide false information especially regarding age and gender. The complexity of questions that can be asked through telephone surveys is also limited. Another disadvantage is that not all respondents in the target population may have access to a telephone.

Computer based surveys are another type of survey research which also has various advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include; the respondent may have the questionnaire mailed to them hence they can respond to it at their convenient time, also, follow up questions can be sent back to the respondent through mail hence any gaps left can be filled in. Another advantage is that minimal time is spent by the researcher conducting the research in the field. This also makes this type of survey less costly. Also, respondents in a wide geographical location can be reached via mail using this type of survey. The disadvantages of this method include; the information obtained such as demographic data may not be accurate since it is provided online, some of the respondents in the sample may refuse to fill in the questionnaire. Also, the complexity of questions which may be asked during this survey is limited.

Focused group surveys also have various advantages including; ability to collect a wide range of information within a short time due to the varying composition of the target group, and low cost of conducting the research since a wide geographical region can be covered at a go. Also, focus groups provide a flexible way of collecting data since the moderator is able to interact freely with group members and address new issues as they arise. Another advantage is that, participants may be more comfortable giving information when in a group without fear of victimization. The disadvantages of focus group surveys include the difficulty in selecting the individuals who will form the group, response of individuals in the group may be influenced by the opinion of others hence limiting the accuracy. The data obtained also depends largely on the ability of the moderator to generate valuable data from the focus group discussion. (Bayens et al, 2011)

The research process in criminal justice research requires the researcher to collect data from a large population also known as the target population. Sampling enables the researcher to study and draw conclusions about the target population from a small group of the target population which is a representative of the entire population. Sampling is important in enabling the researcher to select a part of the target population which will take part in the study, since it would be costly and unrealistic to study the entire population. The sample should be selected such that the conclusions drawn can be generalized to the entire population. This is done by constructing a sampling frame from which the sample is drawn.

Reliability in research is the quality of data that reflects its consistency over time and its ability to accurately represent the population under study in that if the study is to be repeated, the same results would be obtained. (Joppe, 2000). The method and instruments used in the research are then defined as reliable if the results are reproducible. There are various types of reliability including test re-retest reliability which describes the degree at which a measurement remains the same when the test is repeated. Equivalence reliability determines the amount of error which may be introduced by different researchers or the samples being studied. Internal consistency reliability is another type of reliability whereby the reliability of the instrument used in criminal justice research is judged by determining the consistency of results for different items for the same construct within the measure there are subtypes of internal consistency reliability which include split half reliability and average inter item correlation among others. (Kothari, 2004)

Validity in criminal justice describes a measure of the degree at which the research measures what it was intended to measure and whether the results are a true depiction of the actual situation in the target population. There are two forms of validity which include internal validity and external validity. External validity checks the ability of data obtained from the sample to be generalized to the target population. Internal validity consists of various types of validity including; content validity which describes how well the measuring instrument provides adequate coverage of the criminal justice research topic being studied. Another type of internal validity is criterion related validity which describes the researcher’s ability to predict an outcome or estimate the existence of a current condition. It portrays the success of measures used for empirical testing. Lastly, construct validity is said to be possessed by a measure if it confirms correlations with other proposed theories. (Kothari, 2004)

The importance of ensuring that data collection methods and instruments are both reliable and valid cannot be overlooked as it ensures that data obtained from the sample reflects the actual situation and can be generalized to the target population. Reliability and validity of data collection methods and instruments also ensures that they measure the variable they were intended to measure and that the results obtained from the sample are consistent and reproducible. It also ensures that there are no errors in the results caused by defective instruments and that information obtained from the research is accurate and can be applied in various ways including policy making and decision making without any unwanted adverse outcomes. (Vito et al, 2014)

In conclusion, the various types of surveys are a good method for conducting criminal justice research since they are convenient and enable the researcher to obtain the information they require. Despite their various limitations in collecting data for criminal justice research, these types of surveys have several advantages which cannot be overlooked and therefore this method should be considered when carrying out criminal justice research. It is important that reliability and validity of data collection methods and instruments is ensured to omit errors, ensure accuracy and good quality of data obtained from criminal justice research.


Bayens G.J, Roberson C. (2011) Criminal Justice Research Methods: Theory and Practice: CRC


Joppe M. (2000) The Research Process, The Quantitative Report Journal, Vol. 8

Kothari C.R. (2004) Research Methodology Methods & Techniques: New Age International


Vito G.F, Kunselman J.C, Tewksbury R. (2014) introduction to criminal justice research

methods: An Applied Approach: Charles C Thomas Publisher.