Quality of Prisoner Self-Reports

Arrest and Conviction Response Errors

by Kent H. Marquis, Patricia A. Ebener

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An evaluation of the quality of arrest and conviction information furnished in a questionnaire survey of 1,500 male prisoners in California, Michigan, and Texas. A retest subsample of 252 men completed the questionnaire a second time. Bias scores based on average survey-record discrepancies with official record information were computed, and estimates of reliability were made based on retest correlations and correlations between records and questionnaire responses. General findings include: (1) Prisoners do not, on average, deny arrests and convictions. (2) Response reliability is moderately high for self-reports of convictions, but uncertain for reports of arrests. (3) Discrepancies between survey and record values are not predicted well by ability, memory, and demographic variables, so the authors were unable to identify the "kinds" of prisoners prone to lying or to other response errors. The authors suggest that future surveys include not only record checks but also additional data collection to describe the record error structure.

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