Text and Picture: Kaisa Järvelä

Finnish Juvenile Delinquency Surveys Unveil Hidden Crime

The FSD Data Management Award 2015 was presented to Janne Kivivuori, D.Soc.Sc, for the Juvenile Delinquency in Finland survey series. Data collection tracking criminal behaviour among Finnish youth began in 1995 under Kivivuori's supervision. Surveys are carried out every four years among Finnish schoolchildren, and all data are deposited at the FSD.

To Janne Kivivuori, the Juvenile Delinquency surveys are not just any random study. They made him a criminologist 20 years ago and marked the beginning of a career which has since led him to becoming Research Director of the Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy in Helsinki.


Janne Kivivuori believes that archiving benefits both science and researcher.

—I'd worked for a few years as a research assistant at the Criminological Unit of the National Research Institute of Legal Policy when Research Director Kauko Aromaa and I had the idea of a national juvenile delinquency indicator, Kivivuori recalls.

Aromaa hired Kivivuori to plan and implement the first delinquency study, which was carried out among Finnish 9th graders in 1995.

Since then the survey series has been a central part of both Kivivuori's career and Finnish criminological research. The first 10 years Kivivuori acted as a researcher; in the last 10 he has overseen the project as its research director. The 2016 survey is currently under planning.

—Although the core of the survey remains the same, there is always something new. Right now we are trying to decide which of the many criminologically important factors to include in next year's survey, and which will have to be excluded.

In 2012, for example, cooperation with psychologists and psychiatrists produced a couple of psychological personality indicators in the survey, which otherwise leans heavily towards the social sciences and criminology. Hence, the 2012 survey also contains interesting material for psychological research, Kivivuori says.

Archiving benefits both science and researcher

The first Juvenile Delinquency in Finland surveys of the National Research Institute of Legal Policy were deposited at the FSD in the early 2000s. At the time, open science issues were not highlighted as they are now, but the decision to share the data was made as soon as Janne Kivivuori learnt of the existence of the data archive.

—Data sharing benefits both science and the researcher. Open access, repeatability and empirical verifiability of research are central scientific principles. For the researcher, added visibility for one's work is the main motivator, Kivivuori says.

Although delinquency and victimisation are sensitive topics, the anonymisation of both the individuals and the participating schools has made archiving considerably easier.

—Thanks to cooperation with the FSD, the data are rechecked by experienced archive professionals to ensure that it is as anonymous as we have promised the research subjects it will be.

—I remember cases where the archive has highlighted an issue where indirect recognition could take place. In such cases, certain variables have been removed from the data.

Survey also unveils hidden crime

The fundamental problem in criminological research is that only a small part of crimes are brought to the attention of the authorities. Thus, to examine delinquency one needs a method which makes it possible to obtain information about crimes that are not revealed to the authorities and are, therefore, excluded from register sources. The Juvenile Delinquency survey and other research tracking overall criminality serve this particular purpose.

—In Finland, the Juvenile Delinquency survey is the most important information source for monitoring overall criminality among youth, Kivivuori says.

A survey where young people themselves are asked about crime-related experiences makes it possible to observe not only the quantity of overall criminality, but also its features, changes and trends. In addition, the data obtained are useful in basic criminological research.

Kivivuori's own recent research has revolved around direct motives behind juvenile criminal behaviour. An upcoming peer-reviewed article co-written with Jukka Savolainen and Mikko Aaltonen examines the extent to which young people's criminal behaviour stems from revenge.

—From crime prevention perspective the topic is important, as acts of violence in particular are revenge-motivated and can lead to a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.

Schools should prioritise surveys

Even though the Juvenile Delinquency survey series is the most important youth crime monitoring tool in Finland, the participation of schools is not self-evident.

Janne Kivivuori says that although in Finland researchers can still access schools more easily than in most other countries, over the past two decades this has become increasingly difficult. In most cases, schools justify their reluctance by saying that they are flooded with queries.

—In our case this argument does not seem very valid as the Juvenile Delinquency survey is a national indicator that benefits the schools, and the educational, judicial and internal affairs sectors.

—In Finland, only a handful of such national indicators are collected at schools, which could mean that the flood, if there's one, is probably caused by theses. I sincerely hope schools and municipal-level decision makers prioritise national indicators over theses.

Kivivuori believes that many students researching for their theses could benefit from the Juvenile Delinquency data. The use of existing material would save both researchers and schools a lot of time.

Criminology in transition

Finnish criminology and Kivivuori's long-term place of employment are both undergoing major changes: in early 2015, the National Research Institute of Legal Policy was merged with the University of Helsinki, and its name changed to the Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy.

—We are still in transition, but I believe the merger will benefit the university, the Ministry of Justice and all those in need of research information about crime and its control.

Kivivuori expects to see an increase in criminological research after the merger. The Juvenile Delinquency data will probably find new users as well.

—At least for me, the biggest worry related to archiving is that nobody will use the data, and the biggest hope is that their popularity will increase, he reveals.

Juvenile Delinquency surveys are available from FSD for research and thesis purposes.

FSD Data Management Award

  • The FSD Data Management Award is presented to a person, research group or organisation in recognition of exemplary data management and attention given to the data life-cycle when collecting, organising and archiving data.
  • Established in 2014.
  • The first FSD Data Management Award was presented to Dr Michail Galanakis.
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