Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

School Violence Perpetrators Speak: An Examination of Perpetrators Views on School Violence Offenses

Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

School Violence Perpetrators Speak: An Examination of Perpetrators Views on School Violence Offenses

Article excerpt

Since 16-year old Brenda Spencer used "I don't like Mondays" as her justification for killing two and injuring nine people through rifle fire at Cleveland Elementary School across from her home in San Diego, California, in 1979 (Associated Press, 1979), researchers have attempted to determine correlates for this extreme type of juvenile delinquency and violence. While such incidents of school violence (Center for Disease Control, 2014; Prevention Institute, 2014) remain relatively small in the percentage and type of violence in general, they cause the most concern. This concern impacts parents, teachers, law enforcement, and educational administrators almost every day of any given school year. In addition to the fear and panic these types of events cause, they also bring about a great deal of debate on proper responses (Crews & Montgomery, 2001; Crews & Counts, 1997; Crews, Montgomery, & Garris, 1996). A common view in the American public (Advancement Project and Civil Rights Project, 2000; Black, 2004; Ferrandino & Tirozzi, 2000; Kafka, 2001; Public Agenda, 2004; Skiba, 2004) is that stringent zero tolerance policies are the answer to this problem. A minority view in the general public is that more gun control in society is required. A common view in those who work with juveniles and in American schools is that increased counseling and service to young people is the answer. Still some Americans argue for increased use of school expulsion and the building of more juvenile correctional facilities.

Given the increase in major school shootings since the late 1990s, fear and panic associated with school violence have greatly escalated. Unfortunately, most efforts are reactive rather than proactive in nature and focus on punitive or zerotolerance rather than prevention and intervention. Also, the vast majority of prior studies of school violence are individual case studies and/or interviews with fewer than eight perpetrators (FBI, 1999; Harding, Fox, & Mehta, 2002; Levin & Madfis, 2009; Muschert, 2007). This most often results in few mechanisms for intervention/prevention considered by school districts except for the implementation of "Zero Tolerance Polices" and "Gun-Free School Zones."

The Overall Study

The current study is part of a more comprehensive research project investigating the causes of school violence and disturbance in America. This project focuses on the results of a 200-question scenario-based survey, entitled, "School Violence Prevention Questionnaire," distributed in 2013 to identified incarcerated school violence perpetrators who committed acts of violence across the United States between 1979 and 2011 (N=78). This survey questionnaire was developed in late 2012 with assistance from the Themis Center for Justice Policy, Practice, and Research (Huntington, WV).

Sample, Survey Instrument, Data Collection, and Analysis

Sample: Between 2008 and 2012, the researcher scoured all publicly available lists and news reports to obtain a population of names of perpetrators who committed violence on school property or at a school function. Then the deceased, released, unadjudicated, and otherwise un-locatable individuals were eliminated from the sample. Next, descriptive data from publicly available secondary sources (e.g., court transcripts, news reports, journal articles, etc.) related to the resulting 78 identified incarcerated perpetrators of school violence (mostly school shooters) were gathered. This was conducted to analyze their acts of school violence and to the aftermaths of their acts to develop a comprehensive portrait of K-12 school violence in the United States. In addition, the researcher analyzed the scenario-based questionnaire responses from more than 37 of these perpetrators.

Survey Instrument-"Prevention of School Violence QuestionnaireWith the "Prevention of School Violence Questionnaire," respondents were asked to put themselves in the shoes of John/Jane, a person similar to themselves at the time they committed their acts of violence and to answer questions about John's/Jane's thoughts, feelings, and experiences at four different time periods: 1) prior to deciding to commit violence; 2) after the decision to commit violence and during the planning phase; 3) during the act of violence; and 4) immediately after the act of violence. …

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