Female deviancy in the criminal justice system Sample

What is the causation of the obvious differing disposal of penalties? Are women dealt with some level of 'leniency'? Or is there evidence to suggest that female deviance is not treated with the same seriousness as male deviance and as a result, women are being treated differently. Can the differences in sentencing patterns be explained by factors such as; seriousness of offence? The second part of the study 'Justice in the making: Key influences on decision-making' (Gelsthorpe and Loucks, in Hedderman and Gelsthorpe, 1997) – involves analysis on approaches to sentencing of 189 lay magistrates and 8 stipendiaries.

From the evidence derived from the interviews, magistrates described offenders in terms of whether they were 'troubled' or 'troublesome'. Major factors that influenced decision making were motive, degree of provocation, drug/ alcohol abuse and mental state. Other factors were demeanour and appearance (Gelsthorpe et al, 1997, pp 25:1). Magistrates were also of the opinion; differences in sentencing could be explained by 'differing motives'.

They were likely to view female offences as crimes of 'survival' or as a result of provocation or coercion (Gelsthorpe et al, 1997, pp 28:1) and portrayed male shoplifters as merely stealing out of greed (to support a habit)(Gelsthorpe et al, 1997, pp 26:3). Although, magistrates exercised less tolerance when sentencing female shoplifters who's offences were planned and those who shared similarities to the stereotypical male shoplifter.

This is supported by the opinion of McLaughlin et al (2002, pp 133:2) who defined the criminal justice systems treatment of women, as being discriminatory, sexist and that women are punished for breaching criminal law, but also traditional sex-role expectations. Research suggests a hidden element of discrimination against women who are thought to be failing in their traditional roles in society (Martin, 2002, pp 197:2). In relation to family background and possible history of abuse during childhood, reactions were varied.

The majority would take such issues into consideration when deciding on a sentence. Despite this, some had no clear views on this matter (Gelsthorpe et al, 1997, pp 27:4). Magistrates were also more inclined to believe men used women in crimes on the strength they could possibly be treated more leniently (Gelsthorpe et al, 1997, pp 28:3), which may produce the disparity in sentencing of men and women facing the same charge. Stealing pension books, highlighted as one such crime.

Some magistrates expressed that mitigation towards females would be granted with proof of some form of 'mental illness' and 'hormonal problems' (Gelsthorpe et al, 1997, pp 29:2). A major factor in relation to theories of crime and delinquency is failure to address the issue of gender inequalities. Heidensohn (1985) suggests sociological approaches to crime and delinquency have seriously neglected gender variables and in effect, have produced explanations of 'male' behaviour opposed to behaviour generally.

The concept of 'Gender' is defined as distinguishing between 'masculinity' and 'femininity', being culturally determined and highly variable. Patterns of socialisation within society encourage females to become 'feminine' and males to become 'masculine' and that 'gender roles' are socially constructed. Figure 1 (Home Office, 2000, Pg 10), illustrates rates of male and female offenders found guilty, or cautioned for specific indictable offences. It's clear that women feature far less than men in the vast majority of offences.

However, statistics reveal that for the offence of 'theft and handling', women clearly outnumber male offenders. This highlights a clear disparity in offending and conflicts with the findings of Heddermann et al (1997, pp 11:2), who found that for a similar definition of offence, women were generally more likely than men to be discharged, given a probation order, fined or given a custodial sentence, even when previous convictions were considered. High rates of theft by females could be explained through use of 'Labelling theory', originated by Howard Becker (1963).

It assumes that no act is intrinsically deviant. Instead, people in powerful positions define what is deviant. Once someone is labelled a criminal after her primary deviation, she will accept the label, which will result in a secondary deviation Figure 1: Persons found guilty at all courts or cautioned for indictable offences, 1999: Source (Home Office Publication: Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System, 2000, Pg 10). Pollak (1950) was of the opinion that police and magistrates tended to be more 'chivalrous' and 'lenient' towards female offenders, resulting in sentence disparities.

Evaluating the 'chivalry' thesis was attempted by Farrington and Morris (1983) (Harralambos et al, 1995, pp 436:3), which involved a study of 'sentencing' in Magistrates courts. They discovered in 1979, 6. 6% of men, but only 2% of women found guilty of indictable offences were imprisoned. Although men received more severe sentences than women, the research found the differences disappeared when the severity of offences was taken into account.

In contrast to these findings, NACRO (1980) found only 11% of males imprisoned had never been to prison before, in comparison to 33% of women prisoners (Martin, 2002, pp 196:7). Steven Box et al (1983) also found evidence against the 'chivalry' thesis. From his review of 'self- report studies', he concluded 'the weight of evidence on women committing serious offences does not give clear support to the view that they receive differential and more favourable treatment from members of the public, police or judges' (Haralambos & Holborn, 1995, pp 436: 2) .

The same study found most female prisoners were there for minor, non-violent offences. This could be explained through the use of Frances Heidensohns' (1980) 'Control Theory', which questions why the vast majority of females are non deviant. She argues "male-dominated patriarchal societies control women more effectively than they do men, making it more difficult for women to break the law". She also suggested these controls operate not only in the home, but also in public and at work.

(Haralambos & Holborn; 1995, pp 442:3). A number of studies show females are more closely supervised; more willing to accept conventional values and less likely to be involved with delinquent groups resulting from 'patriarchy', limiting the opportunity to commit crime. Hartmann (1982, Pg 447) defines 'patriarchy' as "a set of hierarchical relations which has a material base in which there are hierarchical relations between men, and solidarity amongst them, which enables them to control women".

Research regarding 'child-rearing patterns', by Newson and Newson (1976) found, mothers were more likely to fetch their daughters from school and less likely to permit their daughters to play in the street. Also, this protectiveness appears to extend into adolescence (Sharpe, 1976, Pg 213-214). Moore (1996, pp 170:3) suggests "the effect of these ideological expectations, is to lock women into a narrow, family- centred role, controlled to a large extent by men''.