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Encyclopedia Of Criminology And Criminal Justice


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Encyclopedia Of Criminology And Criminal Justice


Those interested in the study of criminology and criminal justice have at their disposal a wide range of research methods. Which of the particular research methods to use is entirely contingent upon the question being studied. Research questions typically fall into four categories of research: (1) descriptive, (2) exploratory, (3) explanatory, and (4) evaluative (Schutt). Descriptive research attempts to define and describe the social phenomena under investigation. Exploratory research seeks to identify the underlying meaning behind actions and individual behavior. Explanatory research seeks to identify the cause-(s) and effect(s) of social phenomena. Evaluation research seeks to determine the effects of an intervention on individual behavior. These four areas of research are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are designed to be used interactively in order to gain a deeper understanding of the question under investigation.


With this background, the purpose of this entry will be to introduce the reader to the two major research paradigms and issues that organize the field of criminology and criminal justice: quantitative and qualitative research strategies. After describing the different research methodologies several issues related to internal and external validity are identified that are important to bear in mind when assessing the adequacies of distinct research methodologies. The entry closes by highlighting what appears to be the most promising research strategy for criminology and criminal justice.


Quantitative research methods are typically concerned with measuring criminological or criminal justice reality. To understand this process several terms must first be identified. Concepts are abstract tags placed on reality that are assigned numerical values, thus making them variables. Variables are then studied to examine patterns of relation, covariation, and cause and effect. At the most basic level, there exists at least one dependent variable and one independent variable. The dependent variable is commonly referred to as the outcome variable. This is what the researcher is attempting to predict. The independent variable is commonly referred to as the predictor variable, and it is the variable that causes, determines, or precedes in time the dependent variable (Hagan). Consider the following examples.


Criminological theorists may be interested in studying the relationship between impulsivity (independent variable) and criminal behavior (dependent variable). In studying such a relationship, scholars create a summated scale of items that is designed to indirectly measure the concept of impulsivity. Then, this impulsivity scale is used to predict involvement in criminal behavior. Criminal justice scholars may be interested in studying the effects of a mandatory arrest policy (independent variable) on future patterns of domestic violence (dependent variable). In studying such a question, scholars typically evaluate the effect of an arrest, compared to some other sanction, on the future criminal behavior of the arrestee. Thus, quantitative research methods involve a pattern of studying the relationship(s) between sets of variables to determine cause and effect.


The classic experimental design is one in which there is a pre-test for both groups, an intervention for one group (i.e., the experimental group), and then a post-test for both groups. Consider the following criminal justice example. Two police precincts alike in all possible respects are chosen to participate in a study that examines fear of crime in neighborhoods. Both precincts would be pre-tested to obtain information on crime rates and citizen perceptions of crime. The experimental precinct would receive a treatment (i.e., increase in police patrols), while the comparison precinct would not receive a treatment. Then, twelve months later, both precincts would be post-tested to determine changes in crime rate




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