Interviewing Violent Offenders: Factors Related to Participation in Research and Reliability

Scott Phillips, University of Houston

Interviewing violent offenders in prison offers a valuable data collection strategy, but also poses several challenges. The current research draws on data from a larger project to examine two empirical questions: (1) What factors predict whether an inmate will agree to participate in research? (2) Are inmates' responses reliable? The results suggest that inmates from rural settings and those with higher levels of education are more likely to participate in research, but years until parole, age, and race do not influence participation. The results suggest that reliability depends on the nature of the question: responses to non-threatening questions are reliable, but in the case of potentially threatening questions respondents reported much more criminal behavior to the researcher than to representatives of the criminal justice system. The current research also considers more general lessons from the field that cannot be systematically evaluated, but are nonetheless important. Implications for collecting data through interviews with violent offenders are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006