Youth Gangs in Rural and Urban America

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This paper will address the seven basic topical issues pertaining to research methods specifically related to criminal justice. The topic of the overall senior project relates to youth gangs in rural and urban America. In order to gather the appropriate information and research to substantiate the focus area thesis, a more deeply understood realization of the research methods available must be delved into. The focus areas will include scientific vs. human inquiry approach, ethical considerations and the methods utilized to address them, measurement standards, data collection methods, use of statistics, reports and evaluations, the difference between quantitative vs. qualitative data, and field observation data collection techniques. In order to begin, the clarification of scientific and human inquiry approaches will be examined.

What are the major differences between the scientific approach and the human inquiry approach to causal and probabilistic reasoning? When considering the focus of the research as it pertains to youth gangs in rural and urban America, it is important to acknowledge that the focus of the research is to understand behavior. In order to utilize the scientific approach to research human behavior, it is essential to understand what factors would need to be measured. The four steps to the scientific method include observation and description, formulation of hypothesis, speculation about variables and their involvement in the scenario being observed, prediction based upon the hypothesis, and then application of tests to experientially verify hypothesis (Michael 2002). The human inquiry approach is much less removed from the participant and involves more complex interaction analysis and reflection.

Whenever we talk about behavior research, immediately four goals come into mind 1) to describe behavior 2) to predict behavior 3) to determine the cause of behavior 4) To understand or explain behavior. Description, prediction, determination of cause and explanation are closely interwoven. Determining cause and explaining behavior are particularly closely related because it is difficult to know the true cause. An explanation appears satisfactory may turn out to be inadequate (Agarwal, 2011, p.1)

The human personality is complex and the layers of experiences in each youth’s life can make rationale behind behavior complex to understand. Simultaneously, the skewed view of the person interpreting the behavior can prove problematic as their own views are limited by their own experience in the world. This leads to the next subject regarding ethical considerations in research.

What are the major ethical considerations and issues in research and what methods are used to address these? Ethics in research are highly important and can prove to be quite problematic if not handled with utmost care and acknowledgement of the impact potential. The most crucial aspects to consider when focusing on ethical research practices, the methods that are utilized must always acknowledge anonymity and/or confidentiality guarantee, informed consent is obtained, dignity maintained, and that the benefits outweigh the risks (Couchman and Dawson, 1990; Morse, 1991; Polit and Hungler, 1991; Christakis, 1992; Punch 1994). Still, there are research designs and methods “which make it impossible to maintain anonymity at all stages; in other words, when using these methods, becoming cognisant of the source of the data is unavoidable,” (Behi & Nolan, 1995, p. 713). Ethic research methods must always facilitate the above mentioned concerned and verification through an external party to ensure confidentiality and risk are strictly addressed is often found in the hands of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval process. After ethical considerations are made and addressed, the next area of focus is measurement.

What are the various levels of measurement and the key standards for measuring validity and reliability? The levels of measurement according to Adcock and Collier (2001) are background concept, systematized concept, indicators, and scores for cases. The background concept is defined as a broader combination of definitions and comprehension of a given concept. The systematized concept is formulaic by taking a concept predefined by one or more scholars. Indicators are the measures utilized in qualitative research. They help to offer functional definitions for classification purposes. Finally, the scores for cases level is what is generated by an indicator. This can include numerical scores or qualitative classifications. Measurement error, reliability and validity are factors to consider in any research study. Repetitive applications of procedure can rule out or substantiate the above scenarios. Bias is also a factor to consider. After careful consideration of the measurements and reliability factors, the next step is to consider the method of data collection.

What are the major methods of collecting data and the importance of the type of research in dictating decisions of data collection? Data collection methods include:

Documents: Literature review, historical, meta-analysis, diaries, content analysis;

Observations: Interpretive, ethnographic, participant observer, and case study;

Survey: Questionnaire, interview, standardized scales/instruments;

Experimental: True designs and quasi designs;

Other field methods: Nominal group technique and Delphi; or

Multimethods approach: Combination of previous methods listed (Northern Arizona University, 2001).

The benefits of document research data collection is that there are a plethora of previous studies to learn from. Research into what has already been studied also verifies that the research being conducted is also going to contribute to the literature already available by adding new information that verifies or contradicts former research. Observations render the researcher more personally involved in the live interaction of the research. Observations can be very insightful, but they can also be prone to environmental challenges, bias and manipulations that are unpredictable and may skew the results. Surveys can be helpful to uncover answers that people may not wish to disclose verbally. The anonymity of surveys can be great. The only challenge lies in asking the appropriate questions that gather data which facilitates the answers being sought. Experimental is a cause and effect study that is controlled. Controlled studies are great when the variables are able to be narrowed down to a manageable level. If the number of variables are too great, the reliability of the experiment can come into question. Group methods can be wonderful when people feel more comfortable disclosing information as a group. Often the answers from other members will trigger answers that participants would not have considered if not brought up by another group member. Additionally, group methods can also inhibit results if participants are not comfortable with the full-disclosure in a group setting. Depending on the type of answers sought will really dictate which research method(s) are ideal. Literature review is almost always a factor unless the research is so new that there is no literature to substantiate the discoveries or claims made. After the methods are acknowledged, the way in which the statistics, reports and evaluations are used should be addressed.

What are the major differences and usages of statistics and types of data in the various research reports and evaluations? There are two forms of statistics: descriptive and inferential. Descriptive statistics describe a specific data set and graphically displays the distribution of data collected. Inferential statistics infers by use of a sample of gathered information of a specific population. Non-numeric data is labelled qualitative whereas the numeric data is labelled quantitative. Within the quantitative data descriptor there is discrete data, which has a finite number of answers, and continuous data, which offers infinite results. Within the data collection there are measurements. The measurements include nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio. Nominal data has no order. Without order, names are given for the categories. Ordinal data do have order, but the measurements are insignificant between data categories. Interval data do have measurably meaningful intervals, but also have no starting point to measure from. Ratio data are the most accurate with a demonstrable starting point, and measurable intervals for comparison (Kalkins, 2005). The type of data measurement needed really depends upon the information needed to be collected. Graduation rates in relation to arrests vs. graduation rates due to disinterest can become more complicated to measure as opposed to straight graduation rates based upon a small subgroup that did not move from the area for their entire childhood and were not put into any type of protective custody or arrested, as an example. After clarifying the type of measurements needed, it is essential to more deeply investigate quantitative vs. qualitative data collection.

What are the characteristics and differences between quantitative and qualitative data as applied to field research? The quantitative approach utilizes primary and secondary source information. Accuracy can begin to fade the more passed down the information becomes. Simultaneously having more layers of reflection on data can also offer insights not gleaned by the initial researcher (Adcock & Collier 2001). Qualitative data is the non-numeric data. This data can be obtained through Literature Reviews, Historical Reviews, Surveys, Focus Groups, Interviews, and many other verbose methods of study. Analysis of interpretation, bias, culture, reflection, and peer review are crucial. Without any sense of hard zero point measurement system, the reliability is truly based upon interpretation and comprehension rather than hard facts that are demonstrably measurable. That does not mean that the results cannot be accurate. They are just more subjective and require much more thorough analysis than a quantitative study. Quantitative data collection is the numeric collection process. As discussed in the previous section, there are variations in quantitative results as well. The variables can be measurable without a zero point, but have a consistent interval measurement. The most accurate is of course the ratio option. This type of information can only be obtained with clear data points that leave no room for bias, or variables that cannot be contained. This type of data is most often utilized in science but can be applicable in various other realms of study including political science, etc.. The research study that will focus on the youth gangs in rural and urban America will likely use a combination of research methods and data collection. Literature review is most likely going to be the heaviest focal area for data collection as surveys, focus groups and interviews can prove to be challenging within this population or within the constraints of the juvenile correction facilities which have layers of protocols that may or may not offer ease of research study methodology. After the analysis of qualitative vs. quantitative methods, it is now time to discuss the various techniques and options available for collecting and recording field observations.

What are the different techniques and options available for collecting and recording field observations? As stated in the last paragraph, it may prove to be challenging to uncover the answers sought from individual gang members either on the streets, in schools, or juvenile corrections facilities. Ethics will require adult consent for any surveys, focus groups or interviews. Within the confines of the juvenile corrections system or the educational system, the likelihood for cooperative behaviour from staff or administration may prove to be challenging if not futile. Similarly the chances of obtaining individuals form the streets to interview may also prove to be pointless as they are not in a position to “rat out” their clan and may face mortality issues if they participate. Ethics would not render the harm worthy of the results in this case. As such, literature review will be the highest sought methodology. Psychology research will likely be utilized as many of them do have the access to schools and corrections facilities. The ability to request their records will not be an option, however, their own writings that have already passed IRB approval and have been peer reviewed offer the most applicable and ethically sound option available. This concludes the section of analysis regarding the research methods and factors to consider. At this juncture, discussion on the particular research topic will be discussed in consideration of these factors.

As previously discussed, there are issues with this particular demographic. Youth who join gangs are a very vulnerable group by the nature of their participation in the gang. Their reasons for belonging may vary, but often have much to do with belonging to a sense of family. With this in mind, that also renders the potential for consent from parents is highly unlikely. There may be factors in the home that render the child vulnerable with the parents, thus the reason they have chosen to become gang members. They may not have parents at home. They may have parents who are addicted to drugs or participating in illicit activity of their own. They may not be in healthy environments where they feel safe, thus the reason to have a gang to protect them. The gang may also be tied to their family directly. They could have been “born into it.” The danger to the child is far exceeding the potential for good in this particular demographic group.

There are challenges for those who have practiced research studies within the confines of juvenile corrections facilities. In fact, there was enough of an issue that an actual study was done to discuss the situation and potential solutions for this (Lane et al, 2012). Many of the same obstacles that related to asking family permission are still true for youth in the facilities. The youth may be safe inside the facility, but they will not remain there for the duration of their lives, and as such are vulnerable to retribution acts upon release. As such, the IRB approval is a challenge. Additionally, the facilities themselves can prove to be difficult to obtain actual permission, conducive scenarios for honest feedback or be prone to bias. “Further, gathering consent during visitation or court proceedings threatens the validity of the study because youths with parents who visit more regularly may be systematically different from those whose parents are less involved” (Lane et al, 2012, p. 55).

Other factors to consider are the transient nature of participants. There is no way to control the release of inmates or the reliability of attendance to school or specific locations when students are involved in criminal gangs, which are risky by nature. Without reliability, there is no way to measure statistics or variables in an accurate manner. The only way in which those numbers could be achieved is through the literature review of persons charged to treat individuals who have been institutionalized in some manner. The forced attendance, and consultation may make consistency in information, but it also may render the client biased to respond how they feel they are required to participate. Honest answers may be challenging to obtain. However, it may be the best option available. Blind surveys online are a possibility, but the manner in which to reach the target audience could be fleeting. Additionally, many of the youth might take it as a joke and treat it inappropriately, not offering truthful and insightful answers that can be of any use to a real study.

Perhaps the only real way to research this group is through the eyes of those who work with them on a regular basis. It is clear that the group itself is going to be a challenge to obtain accurate records worthy of study. Those who work with this population, however, have constant interaction and experience with them. They may also have bias, but they are more likely prone to reliability and can offer insights that would not be known or understood by outsiders without their in-depth analysis of their experience. As such, the groups worthy of gathering qualitative data are to be discussed next.

The schools render the most immediate and longer history of relationships with the youth in question. The students attended school at one point or another and the teachers often had their own concerns about the youth as they proceeded through their education endeavors. Most will discuss how the child may have started out doing well, but began to decline as they grew older and more involved in gang activity. They may also offer insight into the experiences they had interacting (or not interacting) with the families of the youth in question. The records of attendance, disciplinary action and grades can also offer insight into the progression into gang life for each individual youth. School counsellors may also offer insight into behaviour challenges they’ve had to address with the students, sanctions that have been enacted and therapies attempted. They may also give insight into whether the children were medicated for behaviour disorders or mental disabilities.

Another focus area for relational insight is the juvenile correctional facilities. They have first-hand experience with the youth who have been incarcerated for gang activity or behaviors related to gang activity. They spend longer hours with the youth than the schools. They have the youth in their presence day and night and can participate in behaviors observed with other gang members within the walls of the facility. Illicit behavior inside the institution can also lead to insights of the attachment to the gang, willingness to prove themselves to the gang leaders, and to obtain respect. This is likely the best location to observe true gang behaviour. Schools do not offer an environment where the gang members are free to literally be themselves all day long. Within the confines of a correctional facility, they are not busied with classes and constant transitions between classrooms where they are to be quiet and comply. Sure, behaviour can arise within a classroom, but the prompt removal of the student from the class would not render it a great example of true behaviour observation. Only within the confines of the juvenile corrections facility would the real conditioned, believed, and realized behaviors be exemplified, observable, and reportable. Interviews of guards, administration, and perhaps counseling individuals would be of highest benefit in addition to literature review of other studies performed on this demographic.

In conclusion, the various methods of research, ethics concerns, data collection and analysis are all quite substantial areas of focus for any research undertaken. The factors involved with the particular group targeted with this study is very vulnerable and challenging to investigate. The primary method of research will be literature review and potentially observation, interviews or surveys of facilities staff. The likelihood of adequate cooperation in a timely manner remains to be seen, so the primary focus of this study will likely be literature review and analysis of the findings from previous studies. From there a theoretical thesis can be derived. This will also relieve the potential for need of IRB approval, and the complexity involved with obtaining consent for the youth in question and the dancing around institutional restrictions and limitations. Since this is an initial research study, it would be best to keep it to a more manageable level than to pursue something more complex that would really be more of a life’s work research study.


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