Sociology Index


Self-reported delinquency is a count of delinquency based on the method of asking young people if they have committed an illegal act in a specified time period. The self-reported delinquency technique is one of three major ways of measuring involvement in delinquent and criminal behavior.  The self-report method in the 1950s, the growth and refinement of this measurement technique since then, had an impact on criminological research, especially longitudinal research on the etiological factors of delinquent and criminal behavior. The basic approach of the self-report method is to ask individuals if they have engaged in delinquent or criminal behavior, and if so, how often they have done so. Particular attention has been paid to assessing the reliability and validity of self-reported measures of delinquency. We also discuss specialized data collection methods, such as random response techniques and audio assisted computer-based interviewing, that have the potential to increase the accuracy of responses.

Psychometric quality of the self-report method has increased considerably since its inception in the 1950s. Although there is much room for continued improvement, self-report data appear acceptably valid and reliable for most research purposes. - The Self-Report Method for Measuring Delinquency and Crime by Terence P. Thornberry and Marvin D. Krohn.

The Self-Reported Delinquency measure (Elliot, Huizinga, Heton, 1985) was used in the Pittsburgh Youth Study. Self-report of delinquency instruments are well known and frequently used. Their advantages and disadvantages have been discussed in the literature (Huizinga and Elliott, 1986; Klien, 1988). In this measure participants describe their delinquent activities, tapping the areas of property damage, theft, assault, and substance use. For each type of delinquent act, the participant is asked whether he/she ever committed it, how many times in the past year, if others were involved, and if he/she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs while committing it.

The following delinquency scales were created by taking the mean across items. The items capture whether or not the child committed certain delinquent behaviors:

The analyst should be cautioned that the scales are extremely skewed towards the lower part of the scale, because of the low frequency of the occurrence. This is true for the method of scoring as calculated here, but is even more exaggerated if the second question for each item, frequency of events is used. The frequency of most delinquent behaviors are highly skewed with higher variances for offenders. If frequency of events scores are used, the analyst should be advised that there are outliers present and each item should be inspected and evaluated for them.

The Validity of a Self-reported Delinquency Scale: Comparisons Across Gender, Age, Race, and Place of Residence
Alex R Piquero - University of Texas at Dallas
Randall MacIntosh - California State University
Matthew J. Hickman - Seattle University
Abstract: Self-reported delinquency scales have been widely adopted by researchers seeking to measure delinquency. Establishing the validity of these scales is critical because if valid measures are not created, findings about the correlates of delinquency will be of limited use in testing theory and formulating public policy. In this article, the authors use data from the first wave of the National Youth Survey to examine the measurement properties of a commonly used delinquency scale. The authors use the Rasch measurement model to test whether the scale meets the requirements of fundamental measurement and whether consistent measurement has occurred across subgroups including gender, age, race, and place of residence. Our results indicate that the original response category options are inadequate and differential item functioning exists across various subgroups. Methodological implications and directions for future research are identified.

Inconsistent Self-Report of Delinquency by Adolescents and Young Adults with ADHD
Margaret H. Sibley, William E. Pelham, Brooke S.G. Molina, Daniel A. Waschbusch, Elizabeth M. Gnagy, Dara E. Babinski, and Aparajita Biswas.
Abstract: The purpose of the current study was to test the ability of adolescents and young adults with childhood ADHD to reliably self-report delinquency history. Data were examined from the Pittsburgh ADHD Longitudinal Study (PALS), a follow-up study of children diagnosed with ADHD between 1987 and 1996. Self-report of lifetime delinquency history was compared to concurrent parent-report and to self-report one year later. Participants included 313 male probands and 209 demographically similar comparison individuals without ADHD. Results indicated that adolescents and young adults with childhood ADHD were more likely than comparison participants to fail to report delinquent acts reported by a parent and to recant acts they endorsed one year earlier. This trend was most apparent for acts of mild to moderate severity. After controlling for several covariates, current ADHD symptom severity and parent-report of the participant’s tendency to lie predicted reporting fewer delinquent acts than one’s parent. Current ADHD symptom severity also predicted more recanting of previously endorsed acts. Based on these findings, several recommendations are made for the assessment of delinquency history in adolescents and young adults with childhood ADHD.