The authors do not state that public perceptions of severity should be discounted, but merely that these should not be over-emphasized, as was the case in previous literature.
Another existing mode of measuring crime severity is that of economic models. Economic measures of costs may seem more objective, but given that they also involve speculative losses (such as lost productivity), they are not universally agreed upon. One widely-used model to estimate crime severity is the Bradley-Terry continuum which posits that stealing something less than $5 is less severe than stealing "something worth $5 -- $50, which itself is less severe than trying to steal something worth more than $50. Additionally, stealing or trying to steal a car is ranked more severe than the other theft items. Selling marijuana is also ranked less severe than selling harder drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or LSD" (Ramchand et al. 2009: 143). The authors of the article generally assume that this assumption is valid, although it could be argued that even this is a relatively arbitrary distinction and unfairly penalizes certain groups that may be more apt to engage in specific types of crimes (like car-jacking vs. white-collar crime, or selling crack vs. cocaine) more than other crimes. There are class and racial judgments in other words that are inevitably implied in severity rankings, regardless of the trends of the 'order' in which crimes take place. Even if respondents to the study in a wide variety of demographic and social categories accept such designations of severity, this is no less indicative of the degree to which prejudice about certain types of lifestyles and cultures have permeated the national consciousness.
The authors examined data from two sources to determine escalating levels of juvenile crimes severity. They used the National Youth Survey (NYS) and the RAND Adolescent Outcomes Project (AOP) to see which crimes were most common and also establish the progressive nature of severity. An example of one noteworthy trend was that "in the NYS sample the most frequently reported criminal behavior is throwing things at cars or people, which close to half of the sample reported doing at baseline. Less than 1% of NYS respondents reported using force to get money or things from a teacher in any wave" (Ramchand et al. 2009: 139). For most youths, prevalence for these crimes decrease over time (reflecting the common trend of 'aging out' of delinquency exhibited by most young people) "with the exception of selling marijuana, selling harder drugs, and car thefts" which indicates a further bifurcation into youths that commit crimes 'for fun' according to the author, and those who engage in crimes for profit and eventually come to embrace the criminal lifestyle (Ramchand et al. 2009: 142-143). There was a high probability, based on an analysis of the data that selling marijuana occurred before selling a burglary or hard drugs, giving support, according to the authors, and that these latter crimes deserved an even a higher rating on a 'severity' index than drug-related crimes than public perceptions might suggest (Ramchand et al. 2009: 144). In other words, many juveniles engaged in marijuana use or minor selling who never proceeded to commit more serious crimes, even though those who did commit more serious crimes did often engage in marijuana-related crimes first. Thus, contrary to the public perception, marijuana selling and use was not particularly severe nor did the majority of participants use marijuana use as a stepping stone to more severe crimes.
The authors concluded regarding their analysis of life patterns that "the results suggest that this method provides estimates of offense severity that are not just face valid, but which also have a developmental interpretation that is specific to the population under study. The offense severity estimates across both samples tend to rank violent crimes as more severe than property and drug-related offenses. Interestingly, the estimates suggest that drug dealing offenses are not as severe as those reported in public perceptions surveys" based upon behavior patterns of users" (Ramchand et al. 2009: 147). While they believed the insights derived from their data analysis are important, the authors note certain limitations: "one must assume that opportunities to offend are ubiquitous throughout the entire duration of observation. If some crimes uniformly become more opportune later in the observation period, then they would automatically be ranked as more severe" (Ramchand et al. 2009: 147). Rather than inherent severity, simply by dwelling in certain areas, such as locations where it is easier to find certain kinds of drugs or where it is easier to steal (and sell stolen merchandise), this might cause a juvenile to engage in specific crimes more readily than other crimes. 'Severity' as determined by a crime timeline may simply be determined by areas where juvenile delinquency is more common and certain types of crimes are more available to juveniles in that area. Thus, the definition of 'severity' remains an elusive one, even though the data analysis in the article provides some useful contextualization to common career trajectories of career and non-career criminals.
Article analysis 2
Barak, G. (2004). Class, race and gender in criminology and criminal justice: Ways of seeing difference. Race, Gender & Class, 11(4), 81.
The article "Class race and gender in criminology and criminal justice: Ways of seeing difference (Barak 2004) provides an overview of the different ways criminologists attempt to measure the impact of class, race, and gender in the commission of crime. Previously, "in the tradition of 'functionalism,' crime and crime control are viewed as indexes of misconduct. Typically, class, race, and/or gender become the 'independent' variables and crime control become the 'dependent' variables" (Barak 2004). However, like virtually all academic disciplines, criminology has had "to distance itself from both essentialism and determinism" and has felt the impact of the philosophies of post-modernism and post-structuralism (Barak 2004). The very notion of 'crime' and 'criminality' is itself being questioned and is not assumed to be an objective, pre-existing category.
Barak's analysis primarily takes the form of a literature review in which he examines different types of crime studies of recent date on the subject of class, race, and gender on crime. He compares the different methodologies without coming to a definitive conclusion that one type is better than the other. Based upon his assessment of contemporary research studies, he concludes there are four basic study types when assessing the impact of race, gender, and class upon crime: "(1) quantitative studies; (2) time and place studies; (3) ethnographic studies, and (4) social construction studies" (Barak 2004). Although types 2-4 could simply be called 'qualitative' studies, the fundamentally different focus and assumptions of these studies necessitates that they be separated into their own categories, according to the author.
Relationship to course material
The differences between 'qualitative' and quantitative' studies are one of the primary divisions in criminal justice research, and the extent to which these should be used is a source of continual debate. According to the author, in quantitative studies, the functionalist paradigm tends to hold sway in a search for 'objective' data on crime: "these studies normally engage large data sets involving samples that number into the three or four digits" and focus on various demographic variables pertaining to race, gender, and class (Barak 2004). Barak discusses one study at length entitled "The myth of social class and crime revisited," which involved a quantitative sampling of 555 adults in the Midwest, yielding the finding (according to the author of the study) that other than income, social class exerted little influence upon criminal tendencies (Barak 2004). Gender, in contrast, was a far more salient influence, with males more apt to commit crime than females. However, Barak questioned the finding and the value of such traditional quantitative studies, noting, "that the actual direction of class effects may be dependent on an array of social psychological factors. Thus, the class/crime relationship may be masked by interactive effects" related to a host of other unaccounted-for variables" (Barak 2004).
The author is more approving of other types of studies that have generally exhibited a shift away "from measurement of crime and crime control as responses to individual or group misconduct in micro society" and instead stressed the role that society plays in precipitating crime on a group basis (Barak 2004). In particular, a subset of research known as time and place studies, "want to account for why some men or women, or some socio-economic classes, or some racial or ethnic groups, have been more likely or less likely to be sanctioned by the criminal justice system for their involvement in non-conforming behavior. These accounts typically relate the differences in crime control to their structural and institutional relations of class, race, and gender, rather than to their individual…