Women and Crime

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Over the years, criminologists and criminal experts have worked tirelessly to understand the nature of crime. The main questions that have arisen have been, what causes violent acts and criminal behavior, what social influences help to promote or deter future criminal activity, and why? One theory purported by control theorist Travis Hirschi is called the Social Bond Theory. The theory says that the strength of social bonds directly correlates to whether individuals are deterred from acting on their criminal desires. “A person’s likelihood to offend will be related to her or his ties to (1) conventional people, especially parents; (2) conventional institutions and behaviors in her or his employment and recreation; and(3) the rules of society” (Belknap, 2007,p.46). Due the Hirschi (1969) focusing on boys and delinquency, there was still room for girls to be studies and the theory has no doubt has had criticisms. Nevertheless, the theory itself and its implications are worth a study. The following will look at the Social Bond Theory closer, and its four components. In an attempt to answer the questions: Which social bond is more influential in deterring criminal behavior? Why? Which bond is least influential? Why? In addition, the theory will be used to discuss why female delinquency rates are lower than male delinquency rates?

Further research since then by Hirschi and others (Hagan et al, 1985) has shown that women and girls are far more law-abiding than boys (Belknap, 2007, p.47). Perhaps the most influential bond in deterring criminal behavior in particularly among girls is conventional people, especially parents. According to Belknap (2007), “Hagan and his colleagues discovered greater gender difference in delinquency rates in patriarchal homes, where the mother had a lower status than the father (Belknap, 2007, p.50). The relationship between parents has a direct influence on whether or not the daughter engages in delinquent behavior. The least influential bond the rules of society and this is because the research shows that for most girls, what is important is more intimate. It has less to do with their role in society as being male and female. “Women’s increased attachment to conventional ties and decreased delinquency rates cannot be explained simply by their masculinity and femininity (Belknap, 2007, p.53).

Why girls join gangs

People join gangs for a multitude of reasons. Some of which include building a replacement for family ties they never had, protection, or even for social validation. In popular culture, there has been a dominance of representing gang activity among males. In addition, for many years academic research has also followed this trend. According to Moore & Hagedorn (2001) “Much of the research on gangs has ignored females or trivialized female gangs. Influential early studies of gangs, which for years shaped the research agenda, concentrated almost exclusively on males. The implicit message of these studies was that female gangs were unimportant”(Moore & Hagedorn, 2001, p. 1). Nevertheless, female gang membership has been increasingly growing since the early 1990s. Most researchers would agree that girls join gangs for different reasons than males. This is worth looking into more closely.

In the text Belknap (2007) the author discusses possible reasons a girl would pursue gang membership or affiliation. The author points to the four reasons that have commonly come up in research: “1.) gangs provide friendship and acceptance, a place of belonging, a family, 2.)gangs provide an escape from isolation or a harsh environment, 3.) gangs provide protection/safety, especially from undesirable men, and 4.) gangs provide status” (Belknap, 2007,p. 113). Studies have shown (Chesney–Lind, 1999) show that environment plays a huge determining factor in why girls join gangs, “the gangs provide a social outlet and tonic for growing up in communities racked by poverty, racism, and rapid population growth, and lives fraught with boredom due to recreational outlets” (Belknap, 2007, 13). The author in the Belknap (2007) text would view social, physical, and economic environmental instability a good indicator as to why a girl would join a gang.

Moore & Hagedorn, (2001) takes a similar, but deeper approach as to why girls join gangs. The authors point out that throughout the 20th century, poverty and economic marginality were associated with the emergence of youth gangs, but in the 1980s and early 1990s, the loss of hundreds of thousands of factory jobs made conditions even worse in America’s inner cities (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001, p.2). Many of these gangs served as economic and protective institutions in these communities. More specifically girls tended to become pregnant and relied on the welfare system, but when that went bust in certain places Los Angele and Milwaukee; these girls had to turn to other means to provide for themselves and their children. In addition to this economic hardship, many your girls faced sexual abuse at home and a certain level of sexual victimization in many of these communities in general due to the idea of being considered a sex object (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Therefore, the authors draw the conclusion that environment is a factor in why girls join gangs, but specifically due to economic hardships, and due to the racial and sexual marginalization many of them faced, even within their own communities, gang membership offered not only economic help, but also a strong sense of being a powerful woman.

A developmentally sound approach

The American Bar Association and the National Bar Association makes a solid point when it noted that “the creation of developmentally sound, culturally competent programs and services for girls, however, must be based upon sound research”(American Bar Association &National Bar Association, 2001, p.14). In short, this is because there is a cultural difference in girls committing criminal offenses versus boys committing criminal offenses. Although as mentioned previously, girls turn to criminal activity for some of the same reasons as boys (an unstable environment), a different approach must be created when dealing with girls. The American Bar Association & National Bar Association (2001) makes a reasonable point “research and evidence suggest that a key component of girls’ development is the relationships and connections they develop with others” (American Bar Association & National Bar Association, 2001, 9). One report even found that as girls move into adolescence, many report significantly lower levels of self-competence (perceived self-worth, physical appearance, social, academic and athletic competence) than boys, which may drive their associations with antisocial peer influence” (Beyer, 1999). These and other determining factors including “being traumatized by sexual and physical abuse, as well as familial substance abuse and domestic violence,” (American Bar Association & National Bar Association, 2001, 9) are factors that lead a girl to delinquent criminal behavior. When structuring programs, research in these areas must be done and or consulted, because girls culturally have different experiences than boys in most societies in the world. In addition to gender cultural differences, sometimes these differences can be deepened by racial, ethnic, or economic cultural differences.

The problem is that “there are gender and race disparities in the processing of girls’ cases through the delinquency system… girls are disproportionately charged with status offenses. Their running away ushers them into the delinquency system and may ultimately drive them deeper into the criminal justice system” (American Bar Association &National Bar Association, 2001, p.17). In many ways girls are more than likely to be detained for minor offenses, which ultimately can lead to more criminal or delinquent behavior, which leads them back to being detained, and into a vicious cycle. In addition to being disproportionally detained, as the case with much of the criminal justice system, it gets even more disproportionate along the lines of race. The way a program is set up might make matters worse for girl offenders, whose life centers on interpersonal relationships. Instead of detaining, programs should work to create stability for these girls. Girls should have more access to gender-specific services. As the American Bar Association and the National Bar Association (2001) states “Cross-system designs for girls’ services, protocols for transitioning girls into communities, and advocacy models for girls that cross systems and provide ancillary legal services must be developed” (American Bar Association &National Bar Association, 2001, p.25). Then girls who are in need of nurturing, help, or stability who commit minor delinquent acts out of being in an unstable environment are not forced into a constant cycle between a life of crime and the criminal justice system.

Differences in correcting offenders

One of the first thing creators of the prison system in most countries did was separate them based on gender. There are no doubt many advantages and disadvantages to this setup. According to Belknap (2007), “the gender stratification of male and female institutional regimes became standard throughout the United States, after the Great Depression, most women were imprisoned in reformatories, which lost many of the reformatory ideas and took on custodial regimes (Belknap, 2007, p.187). However, one thing is commonly known, and that is that there are obvious differences in how race has affected the correctional treatment. This fact is something that both men and women who are in correctional facilities have in common. In the first half of the 20th Century race played a significant role in how women and girls were treated in correctional facilities. In addition to racial differences, age also plays a huge factor as well. It is important to look at these issues as well when looking at women and crime.

Most women in the penal system were relegated to domestic tasks. “Valuing women as domestic servants, in their own or others homes was commonplace, and there has been little change in the woman’s imprisonment movement by the middle of the 20th Century” (Belknap, 2007, p.187). However, the rise of the feminist movement and reappraisal of women’s role in society as deviants and as victims, concerns that women’s crime rate was growing faster than men’s, and a 1968 policy in England that stated that imprisoned women should be treated uniquely given their special physical and psychological problems, women’s reform based on gender interest had a resurgence (Belknap, 2007, p.188). There was a concerted effort to make women’s prisons different.

Some of the early advantages to these segregated prisons were that women’s prisons were softer, cottage style facilities often compared to college campuses (Belknap, 2007, p.188). However, in recent years the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. Belknap (2007), lists several of these disadvantages. “Women’s prisons tend to be farther than friends and families of the imprisoned women than men, there is a lack in diversified educational, vocational and other programs due to what is perceived as smaller amount of women in incarcerated, there are low levels of treatment and often no separation of seriously mentally ill inmates, and the discipline of incarcerated women tend to be overly harsh as opposed to men” (Belknap, 2007, p.189-90). In A death in the box, Pfeiffer (2004) talks about the experiences of how mental ill women go undertreated in correctional facilities. Many are just isolated, which leads to other issues including suicide. The author notes “while some are violent criminals befitting the system's most extreme form of punishment (solitary confinement), many others are mentally disturbed people consigned to the box for lesser offenses creating disturbances, using drugs or failing to follow orders” (Pfeiffer, 2004). This proves the many disadvantages of gender-based prisons.

In addition to the differences across gender, women’s’ facilities differ based along the lines of race and even age. For example, due to the Black Codes “White women were more likely to be channeled out of the prison because they were considered to have committed the crime as a victim of circumstance, while African American women were considered immoral having uncontrollable lust, and were sentenced to jail, prison, and hard labor” (Belknap, 2007, p.188). There was a similar plight for immigrant women, for example, historical records from a women’s prison in Illinois from 1835 to 2000, describe the significant impact that race and immigrant status had on the imprisoned women there (Belknap, 2007, p.188). It is obvious that for women, there are more poor people of color represented than white women.

References

American and National Bar Associations, (2001). Justice by gender: The lack of appropriate prevention and treatment alternative for girls in the justice system.

Belknap, J., (2007). The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime, and Justice, Third Edition. ISBN-10: 0495090557, ISBN-13: 9780495090557

Beyer, M. (1999). Recognizing the child in the delinquent. Kentucky Children's Rights Journal.

Moore, J., & Hagedorn, J., (2001). Female gangs: A focus of research. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. U.S. Department of Justice.

Pfeifer, M.B. (2004). Death in a box. The New York Times Company, New York: NY.