Women Offenders Term Paper

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delineation of the research hypotheses. The chapter will conclude with an outline of the remaining chapters.

Relevant Background Information

Increasingly, female offenders and issues associated with their incarceration have been identified as a problem of concern. Evidence suggests that female offenders represent a growing population within the U.S. penal system. Between 1986 and 1991, the number of female inmates in state prisons increased 75% (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994). Between 1981 and 1991, the number of females incarcerated in federal penal institutions also increased by 24%. Since 1980 the population of women inmates has increased by more than 200% (Gabel & Johnston, 1995). Women inmates currently account for 9% of the entire prison population and of this group, 57% are women of color.

The majority of women are arrested for nonviolent crimes. Typical offenses include fraud, use of illegal drugs, and prostitution (Singer, Bussey, Song, & Lunghofer, 1995). Evidence also exists that suggests that incarcerated women experience many problems in addition to their criminal acts that may have influenced their engagement in criminal activity (Gabel & Johnston, 1995; Singer et al., 1995).

Statement of the Problem

As the numbers of incarcerated women has continued to increase both in state and federal prisons, there remains a need to more fully understand the factors influencing and associated with the imprisonment of women within the U.S. society. It is important to gain a more comprehensive perspective as to the differences that exist between female offenders in state and federal prisons, the crimes for which they were charged, the sentencing associated with their incarceration, and the types of services/treatment programs available to them.

Such information is critical for those who work with females in the justice system as well as for policy makers concerned with facilitating and implementing more effective policies aimed at deterring female crime.

Purpose and Objectives of the Study

The purpose of the study is to provide an in-depth overview of female offenders incarcerated within federal and state prisons. An effort will be made to specifically obtain information on the experiences of female offenders in California. It is the intent of the study to provide information on the differences that may exist between federal and state female offenders that may be useful in further aiding professionals in the criminal justice system in the process of developing and implementing future strategies for deterring female crime; initiating plans for more conducive prison environments for women, if needed; and exploring policy options in relation to female offenders that is based on empirical evidence.

Rationale for the Study

The rationale for the study is based on the fact that female crime and incarceration have steadily increased since the 1980s. The increase in female offenders is documentation that there are factors that may be influencing these increases. One such factor may be the experience of imprisonment itself. As many female offenders will be released from prison at some point in their lifetime, while it is hoped that they will not engage in future instances of criminal behavior, the potential for future offenses exists. While each individual woman is ultimately responsible for decisions made regarding engagement in criminal behavior, there is a need to more fully understand and identify factors within the state and federal prison systems that may or may not influence and act as a deterrent to future criminal behavior.

Definition of Key Terms

The key terms are terms used frequently within the study and are important in understanding the purpose of the study. The key terms are identified and defined as follows:

Female Offender: a woman who is incarcerated in a federal or state prison after having been sentenced on the basis of having committed and been found guilty of a crime.

Limitations of the Study

While the findings of the study will have utility in further understanding female incarceration within the U.S. federal and state prison system, it will not be possible to generalize the findings to women offenders and the experience of incarceration outside of the U.S. The study findings are further limited in that secondary data sources were utilized to gather the information necessary to address the purpose and objectives of the study. While this information is valid and useful, it would have been helpful to have the opportunity to also include information obtained via surveys and interviews with women offenders. However, such research efforts were beyond the scope of this study.

Theoretical Framework

Historically, theoretical views on those who engaged in criminal behaviors posited that the offender was best understood as a wrongdoer or sinner who needed to be punished (Forer, 1994). In early accounts on female offenders, they were described as representative of an evil class who needed punitive measures brought against them rather than efforts to rehabilitate them. Potential factors external to the individual that may have influenced engagement in criminal offenses were ignored and blame was placed on the individual, her family, and genetic effects (Forer, 1994).

With the ongoing increases in the rate of female incarceration, other theories have emerged to explain female criminality that includes consideration of environmental factors. Simon and Landis (1991) identified four major theories of why women commit crimes. According to the authors, one theory is that which is based on the work of Adler, suggesting that as women have become more liberated within society, they have taken on roles that at one time were traditionally male roles. As a consequence of assuming such roles, women are thought to behave in ways that are also traditionally more recognized as characteristic of males. Consequently, as explained by Simon and Landis, females have come to behave more aggressively and pushy. According to the authors, on the basis of this theory which is known as the masculinity thesis, "good girls are still those who maintain their allegiance to traditional social roles, while bad girls are those who act like men" (Simon & Landis, 1991, p. 2). Thus, the increase of females within prisons is largely equated with the changes that have occurred to women as they have become more masculine in a more liberated world.

A second theory identified by Simon and Landis (1991) is the opportunity thesis. Similar to the masculine thesis, the opportunity thesis suggests that as women attain social positions similar to men, they also begin to engage in and develop criminal trends and behavioral patterns similar to men. On the basis of this theory, criminality is largely the result of and influenced by the place that women find themselves in within the social structure, the occupational sphere and the personal/family sphere. This theory, according to Simon and Landis, places extensive importance on the occupational sphere and suggests that as the employment patterns of men and women become similar, so too will their patterns of employment related crimes. Arguments against this theory suggest that the theory is really only useful in explaining white collar crime rather than other types of crime committed by female offenders.

A third theory reviewed by Simon and Landis (1991) is the opportunity/marginalization thesis. This theory suggests that women commit crimes due to the lack of opportunities available to them to make money. This theory suggests that as greater freedom and rights have been given to women, equality in economic opportunities have not been made accessible to all women. Female offenders, on the basis of this theory, are those that remain in employment situations largely characterized by poor pay and unrewarding, insecure work. Thus, female crime represents a rational response to poverty and economic insecurity (Simon & Landis, 1991).

The fourth theory reviewed by Simon and Landis (1991) is the chivalry thesis which suggests that in response to the women's movement, the criminal justice system has lessened their leniency towards women who commit crimes. With chivalry no longer available to women, according to the authors, the criminal justice system has resorted to that the mentality of "if it's equality they want, it's equality they'll get"(Simon & Landis, 1991, p. 12). However, the authors explained that there truly is little evidence of chivalry in the court system. When favors are granted, as noted by the authors, white, upper-class women are probably most often the recipients of such favors. Therefore, as explained by Simon and Landis, as the typical female offender is not a white, upper-class woman, the potential that chivalry impacts criminality within women is doubtful.

While not reviewed by Simon and Landis (1991), there is a fifth theory of relevance to women and criminality that appears to also offer a conceptual foundation for this study. This theoretical framework suggests that environmental factors play a major role in whether a woman engages in criminal behavior or not. One such factor that may attribute to criminal behavior is the experiences of women have as victims of both child and adult abuse. Herman (1992) suggested that adults who experienced abuse as a child have difficulty in negotiating demands associated with adult life. With little skill in dealing with the demands of everyday adult living, females may find it difficult…[continue]

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