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Women and Crime

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Introduction

WOMEN AND CRIME A consistent feature of the statistics, not only in England and Wales but across Europe and America, is that far fewer women are convicted of crime than men - a fact which has changed little over the years. Female offenders also show a different pattern of offending being less involved in violent offences and proportionately more involved in theft. In general most now accept that girls and women do commit fewer offences than boys. GENDER AND PATTERNS OF CRIME Writing in 1977 Carol Smart stated: Our knowledge is still in its infancy. In comparison with the massive documentation on all aspects of male delinquency and criminality, the amount of work carried out on the area of women and crime is extremely limited. Although the years since Smart's study have seen much more interest in the study of female crime and deviance, many general theories in this area continue to neglect gender as a factor influencing criminality. This is despite the fact that official figures suggest that gender is perhaps the most significant single factor in whether an individual is convicted of crime. Any theories which fail to explain this relationship could therefore be seen as inadequate. OFFICIAL STATISTICS, CRIMINALITY AND GENDER Pollak - the 'masked' female offender - 'chivalry' thesis Writing in 1950, Otto pollak argued that official statistics on gender and crime were highly misleading. He claimed that the statistics seriously under-estimated the extent of female criminality. ...read more.

Middle

Evidence against the 'chivalry' thesis David P. Farrington and Allison Morris conducted a study of sentencing in Magistrates Courts. Farrington and Morris examined data on sentencing for 408 offences of theft in Cambridge in the same year. Some 110 of these offences were committed by women. Although the men received more severe sentences than women, the research found that the differences disappeared when severity of offences was taken into account. Farrington and Morris concluded 'there was no independent effect of sex on sentence severity.' Criminal justice as biased towards women A different point of view is put forward by those who argue that women are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than men. Frances Heidensohn argues that women are treated more harshly when they deviate from societal norms of female sexuality. For example, sexually promiscuous girls are more likely to be taken into care than similar boys. To Heidensohn the justice system is influenced by attitudes to gender in society as a whole. These are based upon 'dual' and 'confused' assumptions about women which see women as 'virgin and whore, witch and wife, Madonna and Magdalene' Men's offences are often put down to aggression or greed. Men are more likely to be fined and imprisoned partly because they are seen as being less central to family life than women. Women are seen as being inherently deviant than men and courts find it hard to understand their criminal activity. ...read more.

Conclusion

However Mary Eaton found that courts tended to look carefully at female offenders' family and domestic situations, reflecting notions of the 'ideal' women. When women were seen to be capable of looking after her children and her husband was available to support her, the courts may be more lenient (Eaton 1996). Hedderman and Gelsthorpe's study in 1997 found that women were more leniently treated than men. However, the situation was complicated because the courts fined women less frequently than men, and more were likely to impose a conditional discharge. As a consequence repeat female offenders were more likely to be given a community penalty for subsequent offences. In 1998 statistics showed that twice as many men as women sentenced for indictable offences received a custodial sentence. Home Office researchers who conducted a study of 3,000 sentencing cases in the magistrates' courts and 1,800 in the Crown Court commented: In this study a higher proportion of male first offenders received a custodial sentence than female first offenders in the Crown Court. So few first offenders received custodial sentences in the magistrate's courts sample, that the difference was not significant. Men with previous convictions were four times has likely to receive a custodial sentence than women who were repeat offenders in the magistrate's courts. In the Crown Court male repeat offenders were one-and-a-half times as likely to receive a custodial sentence as women. Further analysis confirmed that men had a significantly higher probability of receiving a custodial sentence than women even when other factors were taken into account. (Davis, Croall and Tyrer 1999 pp 225-226). ...read more.

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