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CCJ4820: Senior Seminar in Criminal Justice: Your Research Topic

Your Topic

Every great research paper starts with a good topic, but it's not always so easy to come up with one.

While you should always work within the scope of the assignment, these tips can help you find a topic that works for you:

  • Start with something that interests you,
  • Identify keywords in the topic area,
  • Find out what's already been written about the topic,
  • Find an area that hasn't been overly researched,
  • Develop your research question or thesis statement
  • Refine keywords to find the best articles for your topic.

Selected Criminal Justice Policies that Can Serve as Topic Starters

  • Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: These policies require judges to impose a minimum sentence for certain offenses, often drug-related crimes, regardless of the individual circumstances of the case.
  • Three Strikes Laws: These laws mandate long sentences, including life imprisonment, for individuals convicted of a third felony, often after two previous serious or violent convictions.
  • Truth in Sentencing: This policy requires offenders to serve a significant portion of their sentence, typically a specified percentage, before becoming eligible for parole or early release.
  • Bail Reform: Bail reform efforts aim to reduce the reliance on cash bail, which disproportionately affects low-income individuals, by implementing alternative pretrial release mechanisms such as risk assessments and non-financial conditions.
  • Drug Sentencing Reform: These policies focus on reducing sentences for non-violent drug offenses, particularly for low-level drug possession, and emphasize diversion programs, treatment, and rehabilitation instead of incarceration.
  • Ban the Box: This policy seeks to eliminate the requirement for job applicants to disclose their criminal history on initial job applications, aiming to reduce employment discrimination against individuals with prior convictions.
  • Sentencing Reform: This refers to a range of policies aimed at reducing harsh and disproportionate sentences, including efforts to address disparities in sentencing, promote rehabilitation, and consider individual circumstances during sentencing.
  • Juvenile Justice Reform: These policies focus on treating juvenile offenders differently from adult offenders, emphasizing rehabilitation, diversion programs, and community-based alternatives to incarceration.
  • Community Policing: This approach aims to establish closer ties between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, encouraging collaboration, trust-building, and problem-solving to address local crime issues.
  • Police Accountability Measures: These policies include the use of body cameras, independent oversight boards, and improved training to promote transparency, accountability, and fair policing practices.
  • Reentry Programs: These initiatives provide support and resources to individuals transitioning from incarceration back into society, including job training, education, housing assistance, and access to healthcare and mental health services.
  • Restorative Justice: This approach focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime through dialogue, mediation, and reconciliation between victims, offenders, and communities, with an emphasis on addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and criminal justice policies can vary at the federal, state, and local levels in the United States. Additionally, the implementation and impact of these policies can differ across jurisdictions.



Tips for Effective Search Strategies

  1. Searching works best when you have a research question in mind. You should be able to identify key concepts related to your research. These concepts form the basis for your search terms.
  2. Know your topic. Exploring general sources (a chapter in your textbook, an encyclopedia article or other background reading) is a good way to start. The better you undestand a topic, the easier it is to evaluate sources.
  3. What is your purpose? You may be writing an argumentative or persuasive paper. Or, your assignment may require you to analyze research on a topic. Perhaps you are developing a slide presentation based on your evaluation of key sources.
  4. Start early. Until you have done some searching and reading, you might not recognize if your topic is too broad or narrow.
  5. Don't wait until the last minute. Good resources may not be available locally. Allow yourself time for an interlibrary loan.
  6. Select resources appropriate  for your topic. Your professor may ask that you use only peer-reviewed journals. Other professors may want you to use a combination of texts and articles, or news sources. Perhaps you will be doing primary research using interviews or observations.

What's a Keyword?

Keywords are simple words or phrases that sum up your topic, and can usually be pulled from your research question.

Simply eliminate those words and concepts that have no meaning, when on their own (How, does, the, etc.), and you're usually left with 2-3 good keywords to use in your research.

To find information on a topic, you would use one or more of your keywords to search for sources (books, media, articles, etc.) in the library's online catalog or databases.