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Criminology and Criminal Justice Research: Methods - Qualitative Research Methods

participant life researcher interviewing

Unlike quantitative research methods, qualitative approaches are designed to capture life as participants experience it, rather than in categories predetermined by the researcher. These methods typically involve exploratory research questions, inductive reasoning, an orientation to social context and human subjectivity, and the meanings attached by participants to events and to their lives (Schutt). There are a number of distinctive research designs under this paradigm: (1) participant observation, (2) intensive interviewing, (3) focus groups, and (4) case studies and life histories. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

Participant observation. At its most basic level, participant observation involves a variety of strategies in data gathering in which the researcher observes a group by participating, to varying degrees, in the activities of the group (Hagan). Gold discusses four different positions on a continuum of roles that field researchers may play in this regard: (1) complete participant, (2) participant-as-observer, (3) observer-as-participant, and (4) complete observer. Complete participation takes place when the researcher joins in and actually begins to manipulate the direction of group activity. In the participant-as-observer strategy, the researcher usually makes himself known and tries to objectively observe the activities of the group. The observer-as-participant strategy is very much like a one-visit interview, where the interviewees are also short-term participant observers. Typically, these interviews are conducted with individuals who are known to participate in a designated activity. For example, Jacobs interviewed known active drug dealers in order to gain a better understanding of how the crack business actually operates on the streets. Finally, the complete observer strategy relies on sole observation absent participation from the researcher.

Although several issues must be confronted when engaging in this sort of research, two are of vital importance: (1) objectivity, and (2) "going native." The former deals with the researcher's ability to avoid not only overidentification with the study group, but also aversion to it (Hagan). The latter deals with a situation in which the researcher identifies with and becomes a member of the study group, and in the process abandons his or her role as an objective researcher (Hagan). Even with these cautions, a number of important participant observation studies have been undertaken in criminology and criminal justice including Polsky's study of pool hustlers and con artists, as well as Marquart's study of prison life.

Intensive interviewing. Intensive interviewing consists of open-ended, relatively unstructured questioning in which the interviewer seeks in-depth information on the interviewee's feelings, experiences, or perceptions (Schutt, 1999). Unlike the participant observation strategy, intensive interviewing does not require systematic observation of respondents in their natural setting. Typically, interviewing sample members, and identification and interviewing of more sample members, continues until the saturation point is reached, the point when new interviews seems to yield little additional information (Schutt).

A prominent example of the intensive interviewing technique can be found in a series of studies with active residential burglars (Wright and Decker, 1994) and robbers (Wright and Decker, 1997) in St. Louis. These authors have conducted in-depth interviews with active criminals in their natural environment. Some of these interviews have yielded important theoretical insights that perhaps may not have been garnered via traditional survey methods. Other prominent examples may be found in Fagan and Wilkinson's study of gun-related violence in New York and Jacobs's study of crack addicts in St. Louis.

Focus groups. Focus groups are groups of unrelated individuals that are formed by a researcher and then led in group discussions of a topic (Schutt). Typically, the researcher asks specific questions and guides the discussion to ensure that group members address these questions, but the resulting information is qualitative and relatively unstructured (Schutt).

Although generalizations from focus groups to target populations cannot be precise (Maxfield and Babbie), research suggests that focus group information, combined with survey information, can be quite consistent under certain conditions (Ward et al.). One such criminal justice example is provided by Schneider and her colleagues. These authors examined the implementation process and the role of risk/need assessment instruments for decisions about the proper level of supervision among parolees and probationers. Their use of focus group was able to provide a context for a more complete understanding of the survey results from the probation officers interviewed.

Case studies and life histories. In general, case studies and life histories are in-depth, qualitative studies of one or a few illustrative cases (Hagan). Several criminological examples using this approach exist, and a few in particular have produced some of the most important, baseline information in the discipline today. The classic example is Sutherland's The Professional Thief (1937). In this case study, Sutherland's informant, Chic Conwell, described the world of the professional thief. Other examples include Shaw's The Jack-Roller (1930), which tells the autobiographical story of a delinquent's own experiences, influences, attitudes, and values. Finally, Horatio Alger's tale of street life in New York tells the story of Young Dick, a street boy who is involved in a delinquent life but who is also honest and hardworking. Life-history methods generally involve the analysis of diaries, letters, biographies, and autobiographies to obtain a detailed view of either a unique or representative individual (Hagan). A classic example of the life-history method is Teresa and Renner's My Life in the Mafia (1973).

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over 7 years ago

I really need to take a course in writing. Here is a question that needs to be asked if you were 40 years old ex Federal Felon Armed Bank Robbery with tattoo sleeved arms and no real work experience except Residential Construction with my Pops what would you do for achieving employment skill and economic stability? I taught myself Spanish while in Atwater hoping that would secure a better chance but alas! it hasn't achieved Nada except a usefull sidenote in a temporary employers reccomendation of my workmanship and useful customer service skill for Spanish Speaking Customers with questions. I enjoy the skill but there is not the demand I envisioned! So advice! Here are the other things that plague or modify you... ADHD yes I suffer from- oh look at that rabbit. Certain repititious skills are doable but I can't deny that before treatment of my ADHD the two jobs I had were in agreement that I tend to begin jobs before finishing others then going back and finishing before shift end. Now that I am aware of this and treated I do not think I will have this problem. I am more encouraged by challenge and love socialising. Good at sales and customer service.I am very motivated by Behavioral Sciences and flexible of what kind of work related to these interests. I am going to be recieving a Pell Grant and maybe a student loan for college but have absolutely no idea what to take in college. I lost a good decade and two years of experience in Society to try and guesse what skills and abilities to develope. I like computers and Application development sounds fun? But experience is a must and it is probably much too different from skills learned with 'Pops'. I will check emails regularly for clues so Please send your response to danieljones8814@gmail.com

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over 7 years ago

I was talking to a homie who works at a convenience store here in Battle Ground Washington last night and before he said anything I noticed a dramatic change in him. This is a person I have spoken with everytime I stop at the store he works. In fact I will go into the store solely for the purpose of kickin it.
We discussed his past drug addiction and current involvement with Narcotics Anonymous. He was a BMX Professional before addiction destroyed his career. This edginess of his is what made me identify with him because I am a 40 year old four time ex convict who has spent most this life behind bars. The last prison term was 160 months for Armed Bank Robbery. Between the years 1996 and 2008 I started out in Lompoc USP when the prison was just off a Lockdown for the murder of a BOP Correction Officer Named Scott Williams. I joined a Prison Gang soon as I hit the yard and proved my worth to various Big Homies or Shot Callers.
I spoke with the store guy as I will refer to him Anonymously about various topics concerning my efforts to define Criminality as a Disease. He was open to the idea and thought that he might advise me on details of Narcotics Anonymous methods that treat Drug Addiction cases from a definition of Addiction as a disease.
This never really developed due to my viewpoint that Addiction is the direct result of Criminal Impulse. In addition I feel that the current efforts to treat drug addiction could be more effective with greater treatment success if they aknowledged Criminality as the illness that promotes drug addiction and integrate a program that represents this illness into the drug addiction treatment.
I never spoke to him about this because I spend most of my idle unemployed time at the computer trying to relay my message to people who are in position to help me propose my theory for treating Criminality Successfully. I would like to participate in a study and efforts to publicly and Scientifically Define Criminality as a Disease, design treatment protocals into a program that draws from the definition of Mental Illness. The research of Criminal Impulse can be conducted by Sociologists, Criminologists, and Behavioral Scientists starting with me as a case study which I assure everyone is a prize that will bring interesting insight into the Criminal Mind. Because I do not allow myself to relapse into Criminal Behavior and I am motivated by my determination I will be the most honest, open, and informative excon, gangmember, and deviant to interview.
Furthermore, I chose to address my Criminality in 2004 when I still had four years left on my sentence. During this time I began to research Psychology, Behavioral Sciences, Deviance, and Different Cultures, Religions and Superstitions. Most importantly, I began to observe the people I lived with in Atwater USP California. I left Atwater USP just before a BOP Correctional Officer named Jose Rivera was murdered by two inmates. I will tell you the reason for my transfer. When I made the choice to live crime free it did not initially include disassociation with my Prison Gang Membership. Duty bound I partivipated in a gangfight that did not go so well for me and resulted in my transferral to a Medical Facility in Springfield Missouri. I did recuperate and addressed other diabetic problems while there and I could have remained in the facility for the last three years of my sentence if I chose to do that. I did not choose that option. I was in Springfield Medical Facility for about four months and enjoyed the opportunity to see how the Criminal Impulse acts in individuals who are physically ill and/or dieing. I seen the motivation for Deviance behind efforts of young men who undertake Kidney Dialysis, Middle Aged Latino Americans who've had both legs amputated due to Circulation impaired by Heroin Addiction. There was a middle aged inmate who destroyed two kidneys through cocaine addiction that took his own kidney and a family members donated kidney when he relapsed back into addiction. His story was what made me identify the similarities between Addiction Behavior and Criminality. Both illnesses have a symptom that inhibits the ability to aknowledge harmful consequences of deviant behavior. Even when experience of a consequence is repeated with no beneficial variances the Criminal Mind does not percieve the deterrant factor to crime or deviance. This is reflected in the Criminal Recidivism Data showing 68% of released exfelons return to crime and prison within three years of release.
I chose to leave Springfield because the experience of living with people who are on the verge of death and still posess this deviant motivation was detrimental to my efforts at developing treatment strategies that now effectively control my Criminality. Let me conclude this paragraph by summarizing that this is the first time in my life that I am confident of my ability to maintain my determination to live a crime free life. This determination is active in spite of the fact that I am not reintegrated back into society.
Since August 2008 I have only held two low level jobs that were temporary positions. The fact of my Criminal Past makes it very difficult to find employment and is a regular reason given in job interviews with companies who cannot afford the risk posed by criminal offenders.
The current definition of Criminality as Rational Choice to committ criminal acts that is the aknowledged theory of Crime in America leaves no other alternative but to view all criminal offenders as greatest possible risks to hire into a position of anything but the most minimal responsibility. I have been refused positions at gas stations because of what one manager claimed was the threat posed by my regular access to explosive materials. Furthermore there is no defining the differences between Arson, Bank Robbery, Petty theft, and most disputed of all Rape and Sexual Deviancy which like Drug and Alcohol Addiction is a completely different sickness with different attributes of its own unique example.
My last three years in Victorville was when I decided that I need to dissasociate from gang membership. The progession of effective treatment strategies were allowing me to percieve criminal acts that never appeared criminal to me before. The kinds of crime or deviant behavior that resembles tax evasion, prescription drug deceptions or minor lies to insurance adjustors for small financial gains. One instance is when I decided to spend Christmas high on Marijuana.
Instead of celebrating my accrual of Marijuana I realised the criminal acts that I committed which could have resulted in new criminal charges and either sealed my fate with career offender life sentence or additional time that would extend my release date to around a year longer than the date of this comment here. I remember the moment this realisation presented itself to my mind. I was struck by the fact that I was still acting criminally contrary to law. I was acting in ways that reassured the false assumption of me versus the system.
I had to dissect the moment of my crimes in order to assure that I would not relapse into untreated Criminality before I even made parole and the chance to display my determination to live the rest of my life crime free as a Productive Citizen in Society. I remembered how I told myself that getting marihuanna was a necessary reward I earned by successfully retiring my gang membership without checking in or turning snitch on my homeboys. I deserved to celebrate Christmas high on Marihuana because I was alone and imprisoned. Moreover, I even took pride in the secret knowledge of my deviance that was missed by BOP Prison Gaurds!
I even recognized my attending a class while high brought a deviant satisfaction that is one of the extreme charectoristics of Criminal Thinking.
The Realisation of Criminality is maintained through daily accountability. It must be practiced as an ongoing daily ritual that requires careful consideration before thought, speech, and action. Only through accountability will Criminality be controlled. In addition, accountability is established on the positive traits that contribute to moral imperitive. Accountability of thought denies the ready development of deviancy, which makes speech easier to account for and action the least of them all.
The process of Accountability is not fool proof at every level of use. I have relapsed into criminal thinking many times since my release from prison. I have been forced to recognize how Pride plays a role in Criminal Motivation. Often times I will discuss my criminal history to people who respond with an admiration that in several instances defies the role they have in society or position of employment. Criminal Pride is a very detrimental trait in the criminal mind that provides a motivational force of Criminality that is best expressed in gang activities. Groups of criminally active individuals whose unrestraint in Society is countered by a strict adhearance to laws defined by a Shotcaller and enforced by fellow gangmembers and friends with violent and even deadly force.
If Pride of Criminal Past and Associations is not addressed by a treatment program then it developes into criminal imagination. This is exampled by the people on the street who talk of starting gangs and committing hollywood style crimes. In the most extreme instances of pride symptoms untreated results in the still rare occasions of bank robbers armed to the teeth with guns and armor shooting it out with Police or as the term is expressed with a comparative religious fervency that dictates shoot outs with Police Officers is 'The Outlaw Holding Court in the Streets.'
The amount of times I heard this statement from others but also from my own words as a promise of future efforts in Criminal Undertakings is worth considering when discussing the effectiveness that deterrence has on crime. The next most oft promised statement that the next crime committed will not be conducted with disgression for murder. The reasoning for this is most people in prison have two or more felonies on record and face the threat of Life in Prison. With this option murder and death is more appealing than life in prison.
The fact that Career Criminal Laws effecting life sentences for a broad range of petty crimes inspires murdering innocent victims and endangering officers lives with criminals desperate to escape punishment does not indicate a criminals rational ability to percieve punishment as I stated is greatly inhibited. The perception of life imprisonment is only apparent to permit strategies of avoidance. Listening freely to the comments mentioned above by my homeboys that I observed after establishing my own Accountability and Determination through setbacks explained above I was able to notice similarities in the facial expressions of different associates who talked of these ideas.
There is the same facial expressions that identify irrational assumptions of grandiosity. There is the light in the eyes that highlights pale faces and there is spittle at the corner of lips. This is probably due to the fact that the vision is maintained with such hopeful ideal and great effort to quell the realisation of actual probability of the plan taking place as the speaker hopefully assumes takes precedence for the usual incarcerated social imperitives
as self appearance and approval seeking.
In reality I have only heard of one person who was not much over 20 years of age who achieved the mantra depicting an outlaw holding court in the streets. He was selling narcotics in Northern California when the cops rolled up he gassed the car he was in when officers approaching hitting the first officer and knocking him down to the ground. The other officers then fired into the car. However, even this example did not end as originally planned and stated back in Atwater USP. Someone died that day but not the kid who told me this would be his fate instead of life in prison was to die by police gunfire in a 'trial of six shells instead of a jury of twelve'.
The kid is now doing time in a California State Prison. Or maybe he is in Federal Custody. I will have to research this and find out. I do know who died that day to take his place. It was to be the mother of his unborn child. So two lives were taken without even counting the young kid now faceing murder for the death of his woman by police gunfire.
Rational thought is not a highly pervieved ability in Criminal Minds. Even genious Criminals do not posess a well defined ability for rationality. Rational thought must be developed through programming the mind to Accountability. Rational thinking uses accountability to establish alternatives to waste, poor choices, and worthless pursuits. And lastly as far as this post goes which I am going to say is my example of a Guerrilla Blog. I will go back to the friend in the store. He is using marijuana and though he speaks reassuringly I see the defeat that can only be assuaged by acceptance and minimalisation of loss of determination that I first witnessed in him. These are traits I once saw in myself and I know are right around the corner during moments when I lose hope for finding a job that pays enough to support the approaching birth of my first child or bills in collections. I hear this train of thought in the distance as I fight pride and stand in line at the food bank and remember how I robbed banks over a decade and a half ago. I spend food stamps at the grocery store when I used to say I would never live on welfare when banks were still in business and money still to be had. This last assurance was made when I first got released but as a criminally free hopefull for Reintigration into society as a reformed, productive citizen. This is the reality of life right now. Poverty, Unemployment, Rental Eviction, and Bills assigned to debt collection agencies. But I percieve these difficulties are not unique to only me. They are not even unique to past criminal choices though it has prevented some jobs from hiring there are others whose positions are closed by economic situations. True Rationalisation has never been a negative force as it is properly defined to effect the best possible choice in any given situation. Rationalisation to act deviant or in defiance of law is not True rationalisation motivated by makeing the best choice available. The decision to committ a crime is the result of loss of determination and moral decision skills and the inability to percieve alternative choices in challenging circumstances. Pride allows the irrational thinking criminal mind to decieve his perception even more to identify defeat as an act of rebellion against a weak or distasteful society. These are symptoms of dissassociation not examples of Rational Choice. Choices defined by Irrational portraits of self identification and feelings against those the criminal mind feels disassociated from.
Based on my own life example and what I have learned from those who are like I was but still suffering the mind of Criminality today I feel confident to Criminality as a disease, Mental Illness or Social Illness. I leave the scientific definition to a professional who will pick one of the three or use them to define a fourth similar defintion.
The next time I respond or comment I will tell you what was the most favoritely watched program in the Federal Penitentiaries in 2008 which I promise is interesting and sad at the same time. Perhaps the best indication of how Criminality is Socially Virulent in Free Society and Maintains Criminality in the incarcerated population.

One last thing I will define Guerrilla Blogging. It is when you find a website preferrably similar in content to your blog with an unlimited comment space you can use to promote a social agenda or theorettical concept. Normal routes for these efforts are ignored with a resolved acceptance of ones own academic accredited knowledge and a miserly skill for summarisation. Rational summary is that Guerrilla Blogging is a handy way to find the people who will know how to pursue refined paths for achieving my goal to establish and treat Criminality as a Disease that will prove success by reducing Criminal Recidivism, and firt offender crimes. The first exemplifying effective treatment strategy and the second a resulting effect of defining crime as Disease that erases the assumption of pride that has precedence over deterrence since Jesse James, Al Capone and others who enjoy mythic appraisal for criminality that does not have the same rebellious gleam as Mental Illness and Disease defined by Antisocial Traits.