U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

How Accurate are Arrestees in Reporting Their Criminal Justice Histories?: Concordance and Accuracy of Self-Reports Compared to Official Records

NCJ Number
Date Published
45 pages
This study examined the validity of arrestee self-reports of prior contacts with the criminal justice system, with a secondary focus on their self-reports of drug use.
The official criminal histories and urinalysis test results of a sample of New York City arrestees were used to document the concordance and accuracy of their self-reports. Data for this study were derived from the Policing Project, a research study designed to explore new means of evaluating police behavior. The Policing Project was a supplement to the research platform provided by the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) programs. Since 1987 the ADAM program has obtained, on a quarterly basis, drug-use histories and urine samples from arrestees at Manhattan's central booking facility. During the third and fourth quarters of 1999, 892 subjects completed both the ADAM and Policing Project interview schedules. This sample was of sufficient size and statistical power to address the analytical questions of the current study. Study subjects gave informed consent for researchers to obtain their official criminal histories, which were acquired from the appropriate State agency as an anonymous data set. The nature and extent of discrepancies between the arrestees' self-reports and their official records varied significantly, depending on the criminal justice system contact being measured. Subjects were highly likely to report whether they had been arrested, in jail, or in prison in their lifetime; however, they tended to deny they had been arrested for serious crimes, specifically robbery, property crime, violent crime, and other index crimes. Self-reports of illicit drug use tended to match urine test results for substantial majorities of the subjects. Although the accuracy and specificity of arrestee self-reports varied from moderately high to poor, inaccuracies did not primarily reflect attempts at concealment, since both over-reporting and underreporting were generally similar in magnitude. The study concluded that arrestee self-reports are sufficiently reliable to be valuable for criminological research, particularly when documentation for the honesty of the answers given can be provided. 6 tables, 2 figures, and 29 references

Date Published: January 1, 2002