Juvenile delinquency seems to be on the rise in many parts of the world. Many times, juvenile delinquency manifests in antisocial or illegal behaviors which have in the past been defined by existing numerous theories explaining the occurrence of youth crime. However, the biggest debate today is the type of sentencing to be given to juvenile offenders. To a section of the American population, juvenile offenders should be subjected to stiffer penalties, but to another; juveniles should not be treated as adult offenders. In most parts of the world (including democratic nations), juveniles have often been tried like adults and sentenced to adult prisons, even without the possibility of parole (Msnbc, 2011). Most of the crimes committed by juvenile offenders who undergo this kind of judicial process are normally worst-case offenses but the debate on juvenile sentencing heats up because the offenders are still treated as minors and therefore adult sentencing is often given to them for committing extreme crimes becomes a controversial matter.
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In this debate, there exist two sides to the story. One side is dominated by legal interpretation of the law and how juvenile offenders should be sentenced (including the rights they enjoy under the law). However, the other side of the debate is marred by controversy regarding the degree of crime committed and the facilitation of correct justice to victims and the families of the victims. Across many American states, different courts have had different rulings regarding juvenile crimes and many have also adopted different tactics in dealing with the same. This implies a disjointed manner in which juveniles are treated across the country. This study seeks to further explore this debate and analyze when it is justifiable to subject juvenile offenders to adult trials or incarceration and when it is not. This study will therefore help in understanding the current debate surrounding juvenile delinquency and juvenile sentencing. Systematically, we will analyze the existing literature on juvenile sentencing (in the literature review section) but afterward, we will evaluate existing research methods we can use in coming up with an articulate research study on the same. This will be the final part of the study.
Many law experts today are increasingly noting that there is a new generation in America that is getting tougher on juveniles because cases of locking up juvenile offenders for life are quickly becoming a normal occurrence. This means that many states are repealing their laws to make juvenile sentencing tougher, and frankly, more like adult sentencing laws. However, this is happening even as new research studies point out that subjecting juvenile offenders through adult courts is more destructive than constructive (since such offenders grow up to be more socially distraught than is predicted) (Msnbc, 2011, p. 2). New research studies show that such juveniles become more violent in the future, more destructive, and commit crimes more often and faster than even adult offenders subjected through the same systems do (Msnbc, 2011).
In reference to the changes in juvenile laws from the 90s to date, Belichick (cited in Msnbc, 2010) notes that “It’s really the trifecta of bad criminal justice policy…..People didn’t know that at the time the changes were made. Now we do, and we have to learn from it”. In fact, studies presented in Hile (2003, p. 48) show that juvenile offenses have decreased over the past decade or so when many activists were struggling with the problem of removing children from the streets but still, current efforts to replace punitive measures have gone too far. Junger-Tas (2006, p. 255) notes that today, lawmakers have cast the net too broadly and are insensitive to the unique factors which make juvenile offenders different from adult offenders. Msnbc (2011, p. 5) reiterates that “When you make these general laws… a lot of people believe they made it too easy for kids to go into the adult system and it’s not a good place to be.”
However, juvenile sentencing varies from state to state and for some states, life without parole is acceptable while for others, the minimum age for juvenile sentencing is up for review. Other states are on their way to rehabilitate juvenile offenders even before they are sentenced, or after they have been sentenced. Ruth (2003, p. 260) notes that there is a huge wave of change among various states in the way they deal with juvenile offenders. However, even amid these changes, not every stakeholder believes rolling out harsher penalties for juvenile offenders (which was exhibited in the 90s) is the right thing to do. Inkwell (2010, p. 138) affirms that there was a need to change these laws back then, but nothing much has changed since then, so there is no reason for going back into the past. A Michigan prosecutor, (cited in Msnbc, 2011) notes that the primary need for most states at the moment should be protecting the public and not repealing laws to subject juvenile offenders to stiffer penalties.
Concern among many law experts on the changing nature of juvenile sentencing is increasing by the day, considering current estimates by Myers (2005, p. 2) expose the fact that about 200,000 juvenile offenders are subjected to adult sentencing rules and imprisonment in adult correction facilities. The major reason advanced by Elrod (2009, p. 234) on why such offenders end up in these adult facilities is a weakness in the laws which define juveniles as adults, although some, merely define juveniles by the nature of their offenses. According to statistics from the juvenile center (cited in Congress, 2010, p. 5763), many laws made by different states in America were much harsher in the 90s, when the juvenile crime was at an all-time high and therefore up to 48 states in the country made it very easy for juvenile offenders to be transferred to adult facilities. In fact, with such changes nigh, many prosecutors would transfer offenders to adult facilities even without the consent of a judge, and even in some cases, some would willingly lower the legal age for juvenile offenders so they could be transferred to adult correction facilities (and through expanding the scope of their crimes which would ultimately see them land in the same adult facilities) (Msnbc, 2011, p. 4).
However, proponents of juvenile sentencing through adult judicial systems point out that there is an increasing wave of juvenile crime across America and current sentencing laws are not strict enough to deter offenders from committing crimes (Msnbc, 2011). Msnbc (2011) further explains that some of the horror stories we hear today, such as children shooting up the school, murdering their fellow classmates, rebelling against society (and the likes) are increasing. He further explains that today “A series of horrific crimes by kids rattle the nation: A sixth-grader shot and killed a stranger. A 12-year-old stomped and beat a younger playmate. Two grade-schoolers dropped a 5-year-old 14 stories to his death” (Msnbc, 2011, p. 9).
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The juvenile sentencing debate that came about from an increase in juvenile crime was therefore centered on curbing such horrific crimes. However, Kupchik (2006, p. 126) notes that many people are of the opinion that juvenile offenders who commit such atrocious acts should be rehabilitated instead of being punished. Other researchers such as Heckel (2001, p. 16) are of the opinion that the effectiveness of juvenile and adult sentencing courts lies in their objectives. They explain that juvenile courts are meant to rehabilitate offenders but adult courts are meant to punish offenders (Heckel, 2001, p. 16). This they note should be the central focus for most state repeal laws today. Nonetheless, the debate on juvenile sentencing is endless and more studies need to be done to establish whether states are justified to subject juvenile offenders to adult judicial processes or not.
Evaluation of Research Methods for the Study
Qualitative Research Method
Qualitative research methods have in the past been used in many disciplines but recently, it has been commonly used in social research studies to understand human behavior and the factors that affect it (Gratton, 2010, p. 34). Qualitative research methods seek to explore the detailed specifics of a given research topic explaining the “how” and “why” specific things happen in a given analysis, as opposed to “where”, “what” and “when”. In this regard, it is more appropriate to use qualitative research studies when analyzing small population samples instead of large ones.
A qualitative research study uses various methods of data collection but certain methodological approaches such as action research or action-network theories are commonly used (Gratton, 2010, p. 34). However, various methods of data collection used may vary from grounded theory practice, classical ethnography, and shadowing (among other minor types of data collection techniques) (Gratton, 2010, p. 34). In terms of data analysis, the qualitative research method basically uses the observer impression as the most common data analysis method (Gratton, 2010, p. 34). This means that specific observers analyze a piece of information from a neutral point of view and create an impression of it; after which they later report their findings in a structured or quantitative form. However, the qualitative research method also uses other data analysis techniques including coding, recursive abstraction, and mechanical techniques (Gratton, 2010, p. 34). In coming up with a research design for qualitative research analysis, certain parameters are observed to determine whether specific research attributes fall into a given pattern of characteristics or not. Moreover, the research method ensures the study is done in a holistic manner and not in an isolated or reductionist way where certain important attributes of the analysis are left out.
Quantitative research is unique to most researchers because it employs specific mathematical, theoretical, and hypothetical tools of analysis in coming up with the final conclusions or recommendations regarding a specific causal relationship. It is however important to note that in a quantitative research method, there is a strong emphasis on the measurement of the research variables because the research methodology seeks to connect empirical findings and mathematical tools throughout the research. The criterion for the use of the research methodology is that most research studies under the disciplines of psychology; sociology; anthropology; and political science are undertaken using the research design (Gratton, 2010, p. 35). However, research studies which require specific measurement of variables are common with this research methodology as well.
In terms of data collection, the quantitative research method relies on specific software such as the SPSS and R because they produce highly reliable, valid, and effective data (Gratton, 2010, p. 35). Afterward, the research method incorporates statistical tools in data analysis through the variation of independent variables in the study of causal relationships (Gratton, 2010, p. 35). However, in most contemporary quantitative research methods, the general linear model is used to analyze existing variables in causal relationships. Other methods of data analysis include the nonlinear and factors analysis models but it is important to note that causation does not imply correlation in this data analysis method. In terms of the research design, the quantitative research method seeks to determine the relationship between an independent and dependent variable through a descriptive and experimental research design. In this manner, a quantitative research design is only meant to define the attributes related to specific variations in a study.
Mixed Research Method
A mixed research methodology implies that both the quantitative and qualitative research methodologies are incorporated in the same study (Scott, 2006, p. 155). The mixed research method is majorly used as an alternative to the qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, especially when there is a dispute regarding which research method is to be used in a given study. In coming up with the research design (when using the mixed research methodology), it is important to determine whether the mixed research is appropriate in the first place. The rationale for using the research methodology should thereafter be established, based on the two existing categorizations of mixed research designs. One of the major categories of the mixed-method research design is the time order research design which basically defines the concurrent versus sequential research techniques (Scott, 2006, p. 155). The other research design is known as the paradigm emphasis technique which defines the equal status of existing variables and their dominant status (Scott, 2006, p. 155).
In data collection, the mixed research method uses a number of tools. However, the most basic tools used include questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, observation, and secondary data sources which can be used in virtually all environments and in any population group (depending on the nature of the research) (Scott, 2006, p. 155). With regards to data analysis, the mixed research method is quite dynamic and flexible because it can still use the quantitative and qualitative tools of data analysis. However, there are specific tools such as quantizing which is used by researchers using the research method to convert qualitative data into quantitative data, or the qualifying technique which converts quantitative data into qualitative (Scott, 2006, p. 155).
The action research method is used in a community setting where the participants organize themselves in specific teams to improve the manner in which they argue out specific research problems. Action research majorly works by trial and error, where the participants develop a given strategy to establish whether it solves the research problem or not. If it fails, they try out a different approach until they arrive at a given workable conclusion. The criterion for the use of active research depends on the nature of the research because real research studies or practical application research studies are identified to be the best application of active research methodologies (Scott, 2006, p. 156). This is true because the active research methodology is commonly used to solve real-life problems but some researchers have noted that the method is also appropriate for social researchers when undertaking pilot research studies (Scott, 2006, p. 155). Scott (2006, p. 155) also affirms that “Mostly, though, in accordance with active research principles, the active research method is chosen when circumstances require flexibility, the involvement of the people in the research, or when change must take place quickly or holistically”.
The active research design incorporates four basic steps encompassing planning, acting, observation, and reflection. Since the research is holistic in nature, it does not incorporate only one data collection tool, but rather an array of tools, with the most common being research journals, document collection and analysis, participant observations and recordings, interviews, questionnaires, and case studies (Scott, 2006, p. 155). The basic research design of the active research methodology can be understood from the different types of action research streams which are the traditional active research, action learning, radical, and education action research (Scott, 2006, p. 155).
Comparison of Research Methods
Research methodologies have been used variably in many research studies. However, there is no appropriate type of research methodology to use in all studies because different research studies warrant the use of different types of research methodologies. However, there are some basic common differences and similarities in the use of the above-mentioned research methodologies. In most literature excerpts, the difference between qualitative and quantitative research methodologies has been extensively highlighted. Qualitative research aims to provide a complete detailed description of a given research study but the aim of the quantitative research study is to provide a detail of the features of a given research study. Also, in a qualitative research methodology, the researcher may only vaguely know what he or she is looking for, but in a quantitative research study, the researcher precisely knows what is being researched. In a qualitative research study, the researcher acts as the instrument for data gathering but in a quantitative research study, the researcher uses appropriate tools of analysis in gathering and analyzing data. Finally, in a qualitative research study, the data obtained is usually in a pictorial or graphic form but in a quantitative study, the data is usually presented in numeric form.
The mixed research method being a hybrid research methodology, consisting of the qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, therefore encompasses both attributes of the two research methodologies. Finally, the active research methodology differs from all other types of research methodologies because it seeks to improve its methodologies while the others are fixed on specific types of methodologies. Also, the goal of active research is problem-solving while those of the other types of research methodologies are establishing the relationships among variables. From this analysis, therefore, we come to the conclusion that the qualitative research method will be the most useful in undertaking this research study because it is especially useful in social research studies.
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