ARTICLE: Criminology: Chronic Offenders: The Missing Cases in Self-Report Delinquency Research * Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1985 Northwestern School of Law
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology

ARTICLE: Criminology: Chronic Offenders: The Missing Cases in Self-Report Delinquency Research *

* Revision of a paper presented at the 1983 annual meetings of The American Society of Criminology, November 9-13, in Denver, Colorado. This research was supported by PHS Research Grant No. MH 29095, National Institute of Mental Health, Center for Studies of Antisocial and Violent Behavior. The authors would like to express their appreciation to Charles Hou for his considerable contribution to the data analysis portion of this paper, and to Christopher S. Dunn for his assistance and support.

Fall, 1985

76 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 705


Stephen A. Cernkovich ** and Peggy C. Giordano *** and Meredith D. Pugh ****



In the late 1950's and early 1960's, the number of studies of delinquency relying on official statistics or incarcerated samples declined while the number of self-report surveys using community or school samples rose. 1 The major reason for this transformation was the recognition that samples of official delinquents are inherently biased, while self-report surveys of the general youth population are more representative and therefore more appropriate for the study of delinquent behavior. This development has been useful, but the research still is flawed. Although criminologists have developed increasingly superior self-report scales and have implemented rather sophisticated sampling designs, 2 the reliance on general youth samples has resulted in a serious under-representation in these studies of what we term serious chronic offenders. Serious chronic offenders are those youth involved in serious and repeated violations of the law who are most visible to the police and courts and who are feared most by the community itself. 3

In order to gauge the upper limits of delinquent behavior found in our general youth sample, we used an institutional sample as a comparison group. Our data challenge the underlying assumption of much self-report research that there is no behavioral difference between institutionalized offenders and those delinquents who manage to avoid contact with the official system. The data lead us to conclude that institutionalized youth are not only more delinquent than the "average kid" in the general youth population, but also considerably more delinquent than the most delinquent youth identified in the ...
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