Research Design and Sample, Data and Methods

Published 27 Feb 2017

1) Restatement of Research Question:

The research question being used throughout this essay is:
Does the Australian Government’s current treatment of
its indigenous population, in the context of criminal justice,
strike an appropriate balance between the relevant social,
cultural, political and economic factors?

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The research question and hypothesis consider whether the relationship between the Australian Indigenous Population and criminal justice is one of equal balance. As is made clear from the outset, there are conflicting opinions about whether this justice system is unfairly weighted against the indigenous population of Australia. Specifically, the hypothesis noted the large number of articles which focused upon the over-representation of this specific population within the criminal system. While the articles assessed in the literature review concentrated mainly upon those of the indigenous population who were perceived as criminals, in fact these peoples were also over-represented as the victims of crime. There were also international references to this problem, and research discovered that there were attempts in some areas of Australia to establish ‘circle courts’; these were underused and under-funded, remaining at best tokens of Australian interest in its indigenous population. The hypothesis, developing from the research question, therefore considered that the current evidence suggests Criminal Justice, in handling Australia’s Indigenous Population, is neither as fair or balanced as the international community would like, although it has the potential to be able to treat this population in an appropriate and consistent manner.

2) Research Sites

The research question necessitates an analysis of statistical evidence in order to provide an accurate account of the current situation of Indigenous peoples involved in Australia’s Criminal justice system. As it would be impossible in the time available to question indigenous societies widely enough to provide statistical data, most of this research is therefore being conducted through the internet. Naturally, the internet contains both positive and negative resources, and so this research will be performed using government and document data which has been printed and then placed upon the web, for the most part. There may be additional narrative sources, but these will be analyzed as subjective in accordance with the research design. This allows the researcher to obtain a variety of data, both statistical (percentages of population; analysis of numbers involved in the criminal justice system for race, gender and age), and narrative accounts (first person testimony, international documents, news reports).

The main research sites being used in this research paper consists of governmental bodies such as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Department of the Environment and Heritage and the Commonwealth of Australia; research articles such as that produced by the University of Sidney Law School and the Criminology Research Council; and other articles such as the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Indigenous Law Bulletin. Other narratives will be included, but these will be considered as first-person narratives, rather than academic or governmental narratives, and their value slightly reduced for this reason.

3) Research Design

Research falls into two categories: experimental, and semi-or-non-experimental. Those designs which are experimental are typically medical research, and consist of shuffling the subjects into control and treatment groups. The other category: semi-or-non-experimental, is the basis of the research design used here. This design features the use of Qualitative and Content Analysis, and involves the examination of text and other media in order to create a statistical analysis. While not extending itself to word counting, the research here will attempt to consistently apply the five key processes of Krippendorf (Garson 1, 2008). These concepts are: Utilizing (establishing the unit of analysis); Sampling (narrowing the universe of interest); Reducing (Narrowing the complexity); Inferring (analyzing context of findings); and Narrating (forming conclusions). Although most content analysis considers phraseology and word use, in this context it will be applied to the analysis of articles and documents used by the researcher, which will include data from the HREOC and Cunneen et al; other texts noting the quantities and proportions of Indigenous over-representation, and a conclusion which involves all of these statistics.

In addition to this content Analysis, a secondary feature will be Narrative analysis, which will enable the researcher to evaluate the different articles as narratives, and note within them elements of Facet theory and other features (Garson 2, 2008).

By using these two systems in the research design, it should hopefully be possible to treat and analyze the texts to the best advantage, and thereby to gather important evidence to be used in answering the hypothesis originally posed.

4: Sample

As noted above, the samples being used in this research are originally sourced from the internet. These sources have been identified above, and the research design best suited to these sources has been outlined. In considering what sources to best use for this research, it was considered important that these texts considered Australian justice from the viewpoint of the Indigenous Population. Supplied with sources from Criminal Justice departments, it quickly became clear that very few of these texts considered the Indigenous Population outside of resource and criminality logistics. It then became necessary to turn to the websites of government and political bodies, particularly those interested in the Indigenous Population. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, for example, provided statistics on Indigenous over-representation, but also on the general indigenous population within the country; this provides a ‘control’ group with which to compare those involved in the criminal justice system (HREOC, 2006). Other groups revealed the relevance that under-funding of legal provision had to the situation of the Indigenous populations (Commonwealth of Australia, 2005), and the conflict between the UN’s perception of Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous Population, and the perceived need within that country for greater criminal legislation (UN, 1999, and Edney, 2004). These texts provided an interesting narrative of conflicting values which were perceived as relevant to the treatment of the indigenous population within the Criminal Justice System. A further group of articles which provided an interesting angle to answering the research question were those which discussed the idea of circle, or Murri, courts. The statistics on these are relatively small: however, a significant research article has considered the benefits of this court in one area, Queensland (Cunneen et al, 2005), and there is other evidence which suggests some solution to the conflicting values described above.

Naturally, taking statistics from the internet cannot be as accurate as experimental research. Some areas of interest, as revealed above, were significantly under-represented in statistical evaluation, while other areas (the proportion of indigenous peoples in prison, for example), had copious statistics which would all need to be analyzed. This has the potential to create a lack of balance within the research, giving the appearance of significant oppression within the justice system while under-acknowledging attempts to create a fair and balanced system. These factors will all be considered when providing a conclusion to the research.

5: Data Collection Method

As noted above, this research has been focused upon the internet; these resources will be read and examined for statistical consistency, and collated. Different accounts of the same situation (males in the criminal justice system, for example), will be compared, in order to consider the most likely percentage of the population. Research will be performed on different research sites in parallel, for the example above, this would involve researching all of the pages noted in the literature review, and confirming statistical data.

6: Study Variables

The constant within this research study would be the Australian population; this is the prime focus of the essay, and so therefore any statistics must be related to this factor. Variables might include details such as gender or age; indeed, age is expected to be one of the strongest variables when analyzing prison and justice communities, an independent variable which is likely to influence other variables (such as outcome of arrest). No confounding variables are expected, as the intent of the research is to analyze aspects of the statistics to create a coherent whole; therefore, each variable is examined in turn.

Research variables in this study will include: race, age, and gender. Of these examples, race will clearly be the most important aspect of the study; by directly comparing percentages of prison population with percentages of the population as a whole, then breaking down the indigenous population into other variables, such as gender and age, it should be possible to provide a quantitive analysis of men in prison – indigenous men in prison – Young indigenous men in prison. This development would help the researcher to understand the relationship between each different variable; in the example, the constant would be males in prison. A similar method could be used to evaluate the numbers of young indigenous women in prison. A third example would be those in the indigenous population receiving legal advice; this could then be related back to statistics on prison populations. These would then be connected to the texts related to circle or Murri courts, and the position of the indigenous population within the criminal system.

Considering the percentages of these populations would initially require an ordinal scale (which evaluates ‘larger’ or ‘smaller’ but not the size of the difference); followed by a nominal scale, which would allow the working out of the percentage. The Ordinal scale would be useful when comparing prison populations with those receiving justice in the Murri courts, for example, and when comparing access to legal advice to both traditional criminal justice and circle courts.Concentrating on one aspect of the statistics at a time should allow the variables to be maintained; if the variable is consistent, then this should allow for the validity of any measurement techniques used.


In an attempt to answer the research question, the paper will use a number of web sites in order to collect information. The data obtained from this will then be studied using two types of analysis: content analysis and narrative analysis. This analysis will reveal the statistical data obtainable from the web samples. The primary focus of these samples is the indigenous populations, and variables are expected to be age, gender and race; no confounding variables are expected in the small sample. The percentages can be analyzed using ordinal or nominal scales.

The research for this paper relies heavily upon internet sources; the possibilities of contradictory statistics requires the use of analysis in order to provide the best evidence of indigenous population and their treatment by the criminal justice system. The Variables and percentage scales will be rendered more accurate by the use of analysis upon collected statistics obtained from the internet.


  • Commonwealth of Australia (2005) “Report 403: Access of Indigenous Australians to Law and Justice Services”.
  • Cunneen, Chris; Collings, Neva, and Ralph, Nina (2005) “Evaluation of the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Agreement” University of Sidney Law School, 21 November 2005.
  • Doherty, Justine (2002) “An Increasing Indigenous Population? Implications for the Criminal Justice System” Office of Crime Statistics Bulletin, April 2002
  • Edney, Richard (2004) “The Need for a Higher Custody Threshold for Indigenous Offenders in Victoria” Indigenous Law Bulletin 2004
  • Garson, G. David 1 (2008) “Content Analysis and Qualitative Research” retrieved 18/04/2008
  • Garson, G. David 2 (2008) “Narrative Analysis”
  • Hennessy, Annette (2007) “Rights of Indigenous Australians – Queensland Murri Court” Rule of Law Conference, Law Council of Australia 31 August, 2007.
  • Howells, Kevin; Heseltine, Karen; Sarre, Rick; Davey, Linda, and Andrew Day (2004) “Correctional Offender, Rehabilitation Programs: The National Picture in Australia” Criminology Research Council, 2004.
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