Describe the basis of feminist criminology.

Feminist criminology emerged out of the realisation that criminology has from its inception centred on men and the crimes they commit. Although it can be argued female criminality was researched by Lombroso, as far back as 1800’s, female crime, it’s causes and the impact in which it had on society was largely ignored by the criminological futurity.

Those Criminologist who did attempt to research female crime such as Thomas and Pollak were not only very damning of women but were also very condescending, choosing to stereotype them as either Madonna or whore (Feinman). Law abiding women were described as passive, obedient, chastic, childlike whereas the deviant as aggressive, defiant, sexually impulsive, becomingly adult and even masculine in nature.

( criminology) It is argued by feminists that these views have stayed in the psyche of those in the criminal justice system despite the fact that over the years much research has challenged and discredited these antiquated views, theses perceptions still linger which in turn has meant that as victims or perpetrators of crime, women have been and still are discriminated against purely on the basis as to whether they are “good “or “bad” women.

During the last 20 years, there has been a profound change in the manner in which women are treated within the criminal justice system. This has been a result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. In response, the consideration of a gender-specific approach to studying criminal justice policy has moved from a mere footnote to a full-fledged reform movement.


  • More than one million women are currently under the supervision of the criminal justice system in the U.S.
  • More than 200,000 of these women are confined in state and federal prisons or local jails.
  • Expanding at 4.6% annually between 1995 and 2005, women now account for 7% of the population in state and federal prisons.
  • The number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate of men since 1985, 404% vs. 209%.
  • Women in state prisons in 2003 were more likely than men to be incarcerated for a drug offense (29% vs. 19%) or property offense (30% vs. 20%) and less likely than men to be incarcerated for a violent offense (35% vs. 53%)


  • Black women represent 30 percent of all females incarcerated under state or federal jurisdiction, and Hispanic women 16 percent.
  • In 2005, black women were more than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated in prison or jail, and Hispanic women 69% more likely. 


  • Women in state prison in 1998 were more likely to report using drugs at the time of their offense than men (40% vs. 32%), and nearly one-third reported that they had committed their offense to obtain money to buy drugs
  • More than half (57%) of women incarcerated under state jurisdiction reported that they had experienced either sexual or physical abuse before their admission to prison.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73.1%) of women in state prison in 2005 had a mental health problem, compared to 55% of men in prison
  • Women in prison are considerably more likely than men to have been diagnosed with a mental illness. In state prisons in 1998, 23.6% of women were identified as mentally ill, compared to 15.8% of men, while in federal prisons the proportions were 12.5% of women and 7% of men.
  • In 2004, one of every 42 (2.4%) women in prison was diagnosed as HIV positive, compared to 1 of every 59 (1.7%) men. In New York, one of every seven inmates is diagnosed as HIV positive.

The growing rate of women’s incarceration calls for a critical evaluation of the social impact of our nation’s increasing reliance on correctional facilities to deal with women’s involvement in crime. Increasing arrests for property and public order offenses are partly responsible for women’s incarceration rate outpacing that of men. The “war on drugs,” however, has been most influential in the nationwide expansion of the prison population, having a particularly devastating impact on women over the past 25 years.

Women are now more likely than men to serve time for drug offenses and are subject to increasingly punitive law enforcement and sentencing practices,2 despite the fact that women are less likely than men to play a central role in the drug trade.3 Additionally, women’s higher proportion of incarceration for property crimes than men’s reflects the extreme economic disadvantages that many women face prior to incarceration.

There is an increasing need for further consideration of the nature of women’s involvement in crime in order to respond appropriately to the personal and structural causes of their criminal behavior rather than relying solely on punitive responses.

  • Women incarcerated in state prisons were less likely than men to have been convicted of a violent offense (35% vs. 53%).
  • Women incarcerated in state prisons were more likely than men to have been convicted of a property or drug crime (59% vs. 40%).
  • One in three female offenders in state prisons is incarcerated for a violent offense, but female violent offenders are twice as likely as men to have victimized someone they knew.
  • From 1986 to 1996, despite the fact that the rate at which women used drugs actually declined substantially,7 the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses increased by 888%, compared to a rise of 129% for non-drug offenses.