Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods in Criminal Justice

This argumentative essay focuses on qualitative and quantitative research methods in criminal justice and criminology. Criminal justice research methods and topics are complicated by the nature of the problem under investigation. For this paper, 20 research sources on law system were identified, and ten were selected for relevance to the research topic. These were grouped under three themes, scope of qualitative and quantitative methods, data sources, and selecting qualitative and quantitative research methods.

The selected articles were then analyzed to identify the setting, design, methods, findings, and contribution. Each article was assessed with relevance to the research topic, and a critical review of the findings was presented. While a number of methods are available to conduct research, this paper focuses on the qualitative and quantitative methods of conducting research in the criminal justice system.

Research Methods in Criminal Justice

Gideon (2012) presents findings from qualitative and quantitative research methods administered to 200 drug-crimes related to trails held for violent crimes. He says that “a strong link between juvenile delinquency, crime, broken homes, and drug addiction as an escapist strategy.” (p. 137)

Maxfield (2015) points to studies in the criminal justice system on questions such as “Do African Americans are more prone to commit crime than males of other ethnicities” or “Does the death penalty serve as a deterrent for heinous crimes” or “Is domestic violence more common in African American families than in white families.” (p. 129). Quantitative and qualitative methods proved useful in providing answers to such questions.

The authors report surveys and polls of social workers involved in the rehabilitation of criminals on parole. The understanding is that such issues impact a larger section of the population, and large data needs to be gathered, critically evaluated for causal factors, and then linked to race, religion, economic status, or ethnicity. Such research assumes great significance since the researcher takes a position on the wider community and social issues.

Dantzker, Hunter, and Quinn (2015) mention several areas and instances such as prisons, women’s correctional facilities, where field research was carried out with these methods. These include facilities for holding delinquents prior to their court appearance, behavior when these people were placed in correctional facilities, and behavior when they were released.

According to Wincup (2017), “qualitative method is simple and uses simple surveys that are analyzed through contextual analysis methods” (p. 65). He presents data on alcohol consumption by teens and the probability of their future crimes and says that qualitative methods with simple and variables meant that interrelations of variables were not studied. Jacques (2014) speaks of another quantitative study where well-structured surveys with quantitative methods were used to obtain responses of 35 superintendents of correctional facilities in charge of delinquents. These responses were analyzed through a Likert 5-scale rating.

Questions were close-ended with multiple options, where respondents select one or more options to create a wider response pattern. Semi-structured interviews and responses were analyzed by using keyword associations, and then these were studied. The findings helped to learn about delinquent behavior from the superintendent’s perspective. The assessment formed is “that while the qualitative method is simple and does not require knowledge of statistical methods, it is subject to bias, the reliability is low and subject to different interpretations” (p. 327). The research sample was small, and the smaller sample raises questions of reliability and validity.

Jupp and Jupp (2012) indicate that “quantitative method is more complex; it requires detailed knowledge about the subject, and a higher knowledge of statistics” (p. 39). The authors presented research on recidivism among 150 prison inmates who were sentenced for nonviolent crimes. They started with a set of hypotheses that proposed different statements of the research problem. A structured instrument was administered to the inmates, and their behavior after parole and release was studied through reports from correctional officers. The findings helped to predict the reasons for recidivism.

The interpretation and assessment are that adopting such methods would require some level of expertise that a novice researcher may lack. From the responses, tests such as regression, Two-Tailed analysis, T-Tests, Annova tests, etc. are run with special statistical software such as SPSS. It is also possible to obtain co-relation among different variables. The assessment formed is that the quantitative method is much more reliable, it has high reliability and validity, and the findings can be applied to a wider area of research. There is less scope of researcher bias, and wrong interpretation since results obtained from the statistical tests are numerical.

Sources Used in This Essay on Criminal Justice

The previous section informs us that for qualitative and quantitative methods, it is important to have qualified and error-free, reliable data. Before identifying the data sources, it is essential to understand the definition of crime, the event to be investigated, and the nature of observations recorded.

Withrow (2016) discusses a number of research studies on different subjects such as “the crimes of ‘jack rollers,’ juveniles who steal from homeless people and the causes for stress among homicide detectives” (p. 251). In the first case, Withrow conducted a number of interviews of juveniles accused of such crimes, reviewed crime records and databases of such crimes, spoke to parents and school teachers, and then presented the findings.

More than 1000 interviews were conducted, spread over two years. Withrow then concluded that jack rollers are juveniles, come from broken homes, often with single abusive parents, who are addicts, and they take up such crimes in a bid to seek vengeance and to prove themselves. He also interviewed more than 800 police detective in crime-ridden districts of New York, Chicago, and other cities, examined psychiatric evaluation reports, and spoke to colleagues and spouses of these detectives.

The author then concluded that the cause of stress were constant exposure to blood and violence at crime scenes, time and political pressures, office politics, the demand of paperwork, demand from the courts to gather evidence in a prescribed manner, and the inability to punish criminals who walk away, added to the stress. “Remedial procedures and processes can be implemented when the exact nature and causes of crime are known” (Wincup, 2017, p. p. 189).

The discussion shows that robust and rigid, well-structured research methods with reliable data sources are important. Data must withstand the scrutiny of academics and critics, and they must be accessible. In the case of juveniles and police detectives, the researcher used multiple sources of data, subjects for interviews came from different roles, and the findings were corroborated with the court and medical records and analyzed. Since criminal justice research can have wide ramifications, data sources must be accurate.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods in Criminal Justice: How to Choose

Researchers often face a dilemma about selecting the research method. A novice researcher would find it easy to design a simple survey, administer the instrument to selected respondents, analyze the results, and present the conclusions. However, such a casual method has some inherent errors, and these are explained as follows.

Bachman and Schutt (2017) argue that “selection of research methods depends on the research question and research objectives” (p 53). These are explained as follows. The authors describe research to find the causes and extent of domestic violence among African Americans. They initially targeted a few African American women from poor sections of a city, administered semi-structured interviews, and obtained answers on the causes of such crimes.

The findings they reported suggested that the main reason for domestic violence was due to the hostile and predatory nature of the male partners, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, infidelity, past convictions for drug and other crimes, and other such reasons. Conclusions from the report presented these findings and indicated that ‘unemployed, addicted African American males, with criminal records, engaged in domestic violence.’ However, when questions were raised about the research samples, research methods, methods of administering the survey, a number of issues came up, which rendered the report misleading and false.

Gadd, Karstedt, and Messner (2011), in the meanwhile, had researched the same subject. They used a quantitative research method, they covered many more cities, and respondents were people from poor and rich socio-economic groups. A structured survey was administered, and respondents were not required to disclose their identity. A number of variables were drawn, and efforts were made to find the relations between these variables.

The findings were surprising, and they indicated that spousal abuse is prevalent even among higher economic groups. Co-relations existed but not strong to suggest that domestic abusers were necessarily unemployed, addicts, with criminal records. In fact, the findings indicated that this practice of spousal abuse was also prevalent in high income, white families. They suggest that “white females were reluctant to report these crimes due to the shame and stigma they would face in their social circles” (p. 198).

These two research methods and processes show the errors that improper research methods pose. Presenting results with errors, formed from ill-structured research methods, can mislead other researchers. It is important to note that published research often serves as the base for other researchers. The greater question and dilemma that emerges now is if qualitative is not robust and if it does not have any academic value.

Carlsson (2011) provides an answer to this question. The author presents findings from studies in Sweden to study juvenile delinquency. The research sample was made of 500 delinquent and 500 non-delinquent boys in the 12-14 year groups. The focus of the research was to identify ‘turning points’ among boys, which forced them on the path to delinquency or helped them to desist from such acts. While several authors used qualitative or quantitative methods, it was qualitative methods that helped to identify these turning points, while qualitative methods could not identify the complexities of loosely connected independent events and processes.

Some of the turning points identified were family formation with stable employment of parents, the disintegration of peer groups that forced peer pressure on delinquents, subjective changes in identity that form as the boys grow older, and the environment in the neighborhood. The authors argue that “these turning points manifest as significant disconnected events that force changes in norms, behavior, and beliefs” (p. 2). Any remedial measures to counter delinquency must be tempered with this understanding. The understanding developed from the analysis suggests that certain research questions, which are manifested in individual lives, that are gradual, and which cannot be answered with a yes or no, are answered by qualitative methods.

When complexities are high, the links not clear, and the events take a longer time to manifest; quantitative methods may not be appropriate. Quantitative methods require abrupt and definite answers. Many social processes are gradual, the changes take a long time to appear, and the presence can only be inferred. Responses for semi-structured interviews are often long, they meander, especially if the respondent is not well informed, and it is difficult to bind down these responses as numbers. Therefore, qualitative methods require that a narrative should be constructed and analyzed to understand an event.

Some research report the use of mixed methods, where qualitative and quantitative methods are used in the investigation of crime and justice. Elliott, Thomas, and Ogloff (2011) presented findings of such a mixed-method approach when they investigated the role of procedural justice in the fairness of police methods employed to obtain the desired outcomes. The research focused on police-victim interactions by using a sample of 110 people who had reported crimes against them or their property.

Quantitative methods indicated that increased perceived antecedents about the process of procedural justice were linked with increased legitimacy and obligation to accept law and outcome fairness with satisfaction from the interaction.

For the research, antecedents of procedural justice were considered as a major influencer of fairness and satisfaction than the acceptance of the desired result, Qualitative findings also supported these findings, and the conclusions drawn were that “a fair and transparent procedural justice has the tendency to force criminals to follow the law and desist from crime” (p. 597). Since both research methods reached the same conclusions, the research was found to be valid.

The assessment formed is that, in some cases, using a combined or mixed-method strategy can help to answer complex research questions. Qualitative research helps to predict and answer unrelated complex variables that are hard to define, while quantitative research methods provide for focused and empirical research on the event. However, care must be taken to triangulate the objectives of both methods so that they support each other and do not create conflicts. This means that common elements should exist in both methods, and possible gaps in one should be addressed by the other. Researcher bias is a major barrier that can interfere with the research. If a researcher poses questions that give desired answers, then the research method would have poor validity and reliability.


The paper examined ten resources on qualitative and quantitative research methods for criminal justice and examined the manner in which they contribute to answering the research question. The paper discussed several instances where these methods are used. The assessment is that both methods have their advantages and disadvantages and specific areas for application. Generally, qualitative research is used for subjects where data is in the narrative form, where a number of social pressures and complexities operate, and it is not possible to form a definite opinion. This renders qualitative research as more subjective. A qualitative method, on the other hand, is used in instances where numerical data is available for analysis, and when interrelations between data can be made.


Bachman, R. D., & Schutt, R. K. (2017). Fundamentals of research in criminology and criminal justice. London, England: Sage Publications.

Carlsson, C. (2011). Using ‘turning points’ to understand processes of change in offending: Notes from a Swedish study on life courses and crime. The British Journal of Criminology, 52(1), 1-16.

Dantzker, M. L., Hunter, R. D.., & Quinn, S. T. (2016). Research methods for criminology and criminal justice. New York, NY: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Elliott, I., Thomas, S. D., & Ogloff, J. R. (2011). Procedural justice in contacts with the police: Testing a relational model of authority in a mixed-methods study. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 17(4), 592-599.

Gadd, D., Karstedt, S., & Messner, S. F. (2011). The SAGE handbook of criminological research methods. London, England: Sage.

Gideon, L. (2012). Handbook of survey methodology for the social sciences. New York, NY: Springer.

Jacques, S. (2014). The quantitative-qualitative divide in criminology: A theory of ideas’ importance, attractiveness, and publication. Theoretical Criminology, 18(3), 317-334.

Jupp, V. R., & Jupp, V. (2012). Methods of criminological research. London, England: Routledge.

Maxfield, M. G. (2015). Basics of research methods for criminal justice and criminology. London, England: Cengage Learning.

Withrow, B. L. (2016) Research Methods in Crime and Justice. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Wincup, E. (2017). Criminological research: Understanding qualitative methods. New York, NY: Sage.

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