Research Methods in Criminal Justice has three assignments that require students to think through what criminal justice research entails (see below). This is Assignment #1. Each of these assignments offers a real-world scenario of criminal justice research efforts. Your job is to carry out each assignment in accordance with instructions. Please try to submit your assignments one assignment at a time. By doing so, you can learn from feedback provided by the instructor. Thus if the instructor points out weaknesses in Assignment 1, you can strive to overcome these weaknesses in your development of Assignment 2.
There is no hard-and-fast length requirement for the assignments. In providing your responses, use your good judgment. While we are not looking for extremely detailed and lengthy responses, neither are we looking for superficial answers comprised of several sentences. The key is to provide enough detail in your responses to demonstrate you have mastery of the subject.
A helpful summary of the key components of a typical research process is contained as an Appendix to these assignments. You can find the Appendix below the assignment.
A criminal justice researcher conducts a research study and finds that individuals who were raised by both parents throughout childhood report greater levels of career success later on in life than individuals who were raised by only one parent throughout childhood.
Here is how the researcher conducted his study: He places an ad online on the internet in a local ad website. The ads says that he is seeking volunteers for his study, and that he is looking for people who were either raised by one parent or both parents to participate. He pays the participants $10 each. He has them answer a series of questions about their later career success in life. His data show that individuals who were raised by both parents, on average, had higher career success scores than individuals who came from single-parent homes. A Virginia Times reporter learns of the study by reading an academic journal and writes a newspaper article entitled “Raising a child with both parents will do wonders for your child’s future career success!”
(no specific length requirement for your answers)
- From the perspective of research methodology, what is wrong with the newspaper reporter’s title? Explain your answer.
- Critique the methodology the researcher used to collect data. In doing so, describe both strengths and weaknesses. In providing you response, be sure to touch on concepts covered in this course, including: external validity, prediction, randomness of sample, causal links, and biases of self-reporting.
- Let’s say the researcher identifies 600 people who express interest in participating in the study. He determines that having a sample of 300 participants is adequate to give him valid results, so he can winnow down the number of participants. What criteria should he establish in identifying who should be included in the study?
- Propose a hypothetical longitudinal cohort study (p. 66 of text) to properly test the question: “Does being raised by two parents cause career success?” Would a researcher be able to conduct this study? Why or why not?
What would you (an informed research student) conclude about the researcher’s study on parental status while growing up and later career success?
This Appendix offers a quick summary of the steps and components of a typical research project. It is offered to provide you with an informal overview of what research efforts usually entail.
Conceptualization: This is where you conceptualize a problem in the criminal justice realm and think up reasons why this problem may exist. You should start with a problem statement. The emphasis is on gaining some sort of empirical evidence to back up your findings. What concepts are you trying to study?
Generation of a Hypothesis: This is your particular educated guess and stance on the issue. You are stating an outcome that you believe in but that has not been proven with data as of yet. You are hypothesizing that there is a particular relationship or association between at least two variables. Remember, the Null Hypothesis is that there is NO statistically significant relationship between the variables. You are always trying to REJECT the Null Hypothesis so that your Hypothesis will gain credibility due to the careful observations. You want the resultant findings to back up your hypothesis but you need to remain objective and open to different results that you may not have expected.
Operationalization: This is where you determine how to make your constructs and variables “real” through data collection. This can be done in different ways. For example:
- Through interviews, where you talk directly to people to obtain data
- Through questionnaires, where subjects provide data by responding to written questions
- Using “unobtrusive measures” that indirectly measure what you want to assess, e.g., identifying the most actively visited areas in a museum by determining which area had the most frequent replacement of floor tiles
- Through experimental observation, where you conduct an experiment that generates data
- Through content analysis, where you count how often specific words are used, e.g., How often does Politician A mention “moral decay” in his written and spoken communications
- Through data collection from published data sources, e.g., crime data published by the Justice Department
Variables: Name your independent and dependent variables. The independent variable(s) is what you expect will have an influence on the outcome of the dependent variable(s). You must name your UA (Unit of Analysis). Your variables can be nominal, ordinal, or interval/ratio. Nominal data are considerations such as Male/Female, Married/Not Married, White/Black. Ordinal data are rank-ordered considerations, such as likely/somewhat likely/not very likely, often/somewhat often/ not very often, tall/medium height/short, strong/normal strength/weak, like/somewhat like/dislike, age 10-15/ age 16-20/ age 21-25, 1-5 years stay/ 6-10 years stay, and so on. Interval/Ratio data are considerations such as exact age (15 years old), exact height (5’9″), exact weight (165 lbs.), # of criminal incidents (4), # of years spent in prison (15), yearly income ($40,000/year), etc.
Real World Observations (see Operationalization above): Discuss how you will make your observations in the real world. How will you accumulate your date for statistical observation? You must choose a realistic data collection method. If your data consists of the attitudes of Chiefs of Police of various police departments, you must answer how you will realistically gain access to these Chiefs of Police since they are not easily approachable. You can also choose to utilize official records such as arrest records, court records, jail records, school records, government records, etc. Another important avenue for criminal justice researchers is data from the NIJ (National Institute of Justice). Also, from your studies you should recall other sources of data such as the UCR (Uniform Crime Reports), the NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey), and the NIBRS (National Incident Based Reporting System). These annual reports hold a plethora of information that are of immense use to criminal justice practitioners.
Data Analysis: Now that you have collected your data you must determine how you will analyze it meaningfully. You can utilize a regression analysis to look for a correlation between the variables. You can use descriptive statistics to plot the data on a scatter plot and utilize the findings of a correlation coefficient analysis to see if there is a positive relationship between the data. There are many ways you can analyze and interpret the data and it is up to you on the method you select but make sure it is appropriate for the type of data you have compiled. You are not restricted to analyzing quantitative data. You can also focus on qualitative data, e.g., summarizing the history of attempts to reduce crime in a given neighborhood.
Application of the Findings: Describe some meaningful applications that can benefit from your findings. This could deal with public policy considerations where a particular ordnance is abolished or added. Maybe a mandatory minimum sentence is rolled back or more funding is allocated to a particular location. The reason researchers study phenomena is so that their findings can be put into action in a beneficial manner and this should be your focus as a criminal justice researcher.
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