Examining factors influencing sentencing decisions in school shootings

Published date09 January 2017
Date09 January 2017
AuthorSherzine McKenzie,James William Crosby
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Examining factors influencing sentencing
decisions in school shootings
Sherzine McKenzie and James William Crosby
Purpose The purposeof this paper is to examine publicperception of factorsrelevant in sentencing decision
making for juvenileschool shooters with a history of familialabuse, peer victimization, and schoolintervention.
Design/methodology/approach Through the use of school shooting vignettes, 298 college-aged
participants were randomly assigned to one of eight experimental conditions which differed based on the
inclusion of the independent variables.
Findings Results revealed no significant differences among the groups on the sentencing
recommendations (i.e. psychiatric placement and incarceration). However, correlational analyses indicated
that participantsgenerally perceived they were influenced by the perpetrators history of peer victimization
and the level of intervention offered by school personnel when the shooter was bullied. Further regression
analyses suggested that participant characteristics such as race, gender, and prior experienceswith bullying
were among the most powerful predictors of agreement with sentencing recommendations.
Practical implications Implications of the current findings raise questions as to the influence of peer
victimization in civil and criminal court proceedings and its associated impact on the juvenile justice system,
the educational system, and societys desire for justice.
Originality/value This study ambitiously ventures into exploring and understanding the relevant
sociological, academic, and legal factors in addressing acts of school violence.
Keywords Bullying, Sentencing, School shootings, Extralegal factors, Juvenile justice, Peer victimization
Paper type Research paper
The term school shootingbecame part of the American vernacular particularly following the
events at the Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 (McCabe and Martin, 2005;
Verlinden et al., 2000). Despite the public perception of the ubiquity of school shootings, the rate
of school violence has been steadily decreasing since the early 1990s (Robers et al., 2015).
In what may be considered a scaremongering tactic, numerous politicians and media pundits
often provide prevalence rates of school shootings numbering well over 100 between 2012 and
2015 (Hee Lee, 2015). It is difficult, however, to estimate a prevalence of school shooting
incidents as there is no generally agreed upon definition of what exactly constitutes
a school shooting.
School violence trends, collected and reported by national agencies such as the Federal Bureau
of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Center for Education
Statistics, often categorize any act of gun violence occurring on school property as a
school shooting incident. Consequently, an incident involving a kindergartener accidentally
discharging his parentsweapon brought to school for show-and-tell, would be categorized as a
school shooting. An accepted definition of the term school shootingrefers to premeditated
vengeful acts of gun violence occurring at school and specifically directed at students and/or
school personnel, and not due to gang or drug-related reasons (Gerard et al., 2015).
The FBIs (Blair and Schweit, 2014) recent review of active shooter events, under which school
shootings are classified, identified 39 such incidents between 2000 and 2013. Notably, during
this timeframe, with the exception of 2001, at least one active shooter event on school property
occurred. Although this statistic may seem relatively low, across the 160 active shooter events
Received 9 October 2015
Revised 18 March 2016
Accepted 4 April 2016
The authors would like to express
sincere thanks to Dr Craig
Henderson and Dr Jorge Varela for
their insights on this project.
Sherzine McKenzie is a Clinical
Psychology Doctoral Student
and James William Crosby is an
Associate Professor of
Psychology, both at the
Department of Psychology and
Philosophy, Sam Houston
State University, Huntsville,
Texas, USA.
VOL. 9 NO. 1 2017, pp.38-49, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-10-2015-0193

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT