What are the Methods and Techniques used in Criminology?

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What are the Methods and Techniques used in Criminology?

What are the methods mostly used in data collection in criminology? While scientific methods are basically alike for all sciences, scientific techniques differ, for techniques are the particular ways in which scientific methods are applied to a particular problem.

Each science, therefore, develops a series of techniques which fit the body of material studies. What are the techniques used in criminological research? The criminologists generally use survey method, case study method, and statistical method in studying criminal behaviour. Occasionally, experimental method is also used.

The survey method collects facts by putting questions to a large number of persons under scientific controls. The three tools often used in this technique are questionnaire, schedule and interview guide. A questionnaire is filled out by the informant personally, while a schedule is filled out by a trained investigator.

Questions in both are pre-structured. An interview guide consists of only points on which questions are put to the informants; it does not have structured questions. These tools have their pitfalls.

The informants may not understand a question; they may pick up an answer even though they may not have any firm opinion on the matter; they may give an 'acceptable' answer rather than the real one; or they may be swayed by the way the question is worded.

Even though these tools may have a margin of error, yet they are very useful, for they are more reliable than guesswork. While non-participant observation may be used in criminology, the use of participant observation is almost impractical. The participant observer seeks insight by wishing to take part in whatever is being studied, and, this is not feasible in criminological studies.

The case study method is a method of studying social phenomena through an intensive and in-depth analysis of an individual case. The case may be a person (a juvenile delinquent), a group (youth criminals), an institution (Borstal School), an event (riot in prison), a situation (collective violence), an organisation (the police), or any other unit of social life. This method provides an opportunity for a thorough analysis of many specific details that are often overlooked in other methods.

The investigator delves into the social, medical, psychological and sometimes psychiatric and mental background of the individual.

Attention is given to attitudes and perceptions as well as to behaviour, following the theory of W.I. Thomas that "if individuals define situations as real, they are real in their consequences". Information is gathered from families, school records, neighbours, peers, work-groups, and other sources; numerous interviews with the individual are also made.

This approach rests on the assumption that the case being studied is typical of cases of a certain type so that, through intensive analysis, generalizations may be made which will be applicable to other cases of the same type.

The greatest value of the case study is in the suggestion of hypotheses which can then be tested by other methods. Much of our reliable knowledge about juvenile delinquency, for instance, has developed through the testing of hypotheses which were suggested by early case studies of delinquents (Thomas, 1923; Shaw, 1931).

Similarly, much of our present knowledge about female criminals in India stems from hypotheses suggested by Ram Ahuja (1969) and others. These hypotheses are often not tested by the case study method but by other methods.

The statistical method enables us to reduce a complex mass of data to simple units of measurement. For example, the researcher can calculate an average (a mean, a median, or a mode) and point out the central tendency of the whole group of items and can also give another figure (standard deviation) to measure the dispersion of items around the central tendency.

For example, a criminologist can collect data pertaining to the period for which criminals remain under trial and are detained in prisons without any work, or the period for which petty offenders are imprisoned, pointing out the lack of utility of such imprisonment in the reformation of criminals.

By means of statistical device, known as coefficient of correlation, a criminologist can also compare the figures of one group with those of other groups in order, to reveal potential relationships.

In statistical technique, quite frequently the correlation technique is used in criminology. Investigators pick up a variable considered to be relevant to the study of crime or delinquency and measure the correlation between that variable and crime.

The correlation coefficient measures the degree to which variables occur together. Perfect correlation is 1.00, and the direction may be positive or negative. For example, age and vision are usually negatively correlated, i.e., as age increases, vision decreases.

In criminology, suppose in one study, we find a correlation coefficient of -0.51 between median years of education and juvenile delinquency, and a correlation coefficient of +0.70 between the rate of delinquency and the percentage of low-caste persons, it would mean that as the rate of delinquency increases, the median years of education decrease.

But this relationship is not as strong as the relationship between class and delinquency. The strong correlation found by Kewalramani (Child Abuse, 1991) in his study of sexual abuse of children was negative to correlation of -0.56 between poverty and rate of sexual abuse. That is, as the percentage of children who lived in well-off homes increased, the rate of sexual abuse of children decreased.

The criticism against the statistical technique is that it can give us bases upon which to predict delinquency/crime but it tells us nothing about causation. For example, the correlation between the social contacts a prisoner is able to maintain and his adjustment in prison is high. We can predict that one will occur when the other occurs; but we would certainly not argue that maladjustment in prison is caused by lack of social contacts.

More likely, in many cases of correlation, factors other than those correlated may be the 'cause'. Could we say that because more rapes occur in homes than in streets, sleeping in the streets is safer for women than sleeping at home? This type of correlation ship will be ludicrous. Other factors have to be considered in the analysis of statistics. A correlation only directs inquiry; it does not show a causal relationship.

A sociologist has wisely said: "Where there is causation, there is also correlation, but where there is correlation, and there may be no corresponding causation." In short, statistical analyses are used by criminologists only to measure the frequency with which certain factors such as age, income, education, intelligence, and others occur with regard to delinquency and crime.

The experimental method, often used by physical scientists, is not as adaptable to use in the social sciences because control is more difficult to achieve. The closest the criminologist has come to the use of this method is through controlled observations. We may take an example: Suppose we attempt to measure the differences between short-term and long-term methods of detention of male juvenile delinquents.

Knowing the failure of traditional methods used in the reformation of juveniles in Children Homes, a new type of treatment facility is introduced in a selected Home that would treat boys for a short period, say, up to three months.

The new programme could be a guided group interaction combined with work and recreation programmes, all aimed at changing the self concept of the juvenile. Its results then would be compared with those of the longer treatment period at the same Home where the sentences ran from twelve months to eighteen months.

Thus, in an experimental method, ideally an experiment begins with two or more equivalent groups and an experimental variable is introduced only in the 'experimental group'. The 'control group' does not experience the experimental variable. The investigator measures the phenomenon under study before and after the introduction of the experimental variable, thus getting a measure of the change presumably caused by the variable.

In using the experimental method in criminology, the investigator encounters the problem of selecting equivalent groups which proves to be an insurmountable problem. Thus, the difficulty of equalizing the experimental and control groups, the difficulty in getting sufficient data, the difficulty of isolating all variables that are not being tested are only some of the problems which make the use of the experimental design in delinquency and crime research doubtful.

All the above-mentioned methods have thus relative merits as well as limitations. As such, no one method can be described as superior to the other. Each is important for its own purpose.

The merit of the survey method lies in the fact that it makes the study of criminal behaviour in its natural setting (family, prison, police station, court, correctional reformatory, etc.) eminently practicable; but the great weakness of this method is that the convicted and the incarcerated criminals often do not give accurate information.

They only say what they think a researcher wants to hear, either because they just wish to get rid of the researcher, or because they think that the researcher might help them with the official agency. However, the greatest advantage of this method is that researchers get out of their armchairs and move into the field and study criminals in their own environment.


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