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Women as Criminals

Updated on December 25, 2014

Women Breaking the Law

There are many women in juvenile correctional facilities, communities, prisons, and jails. Some of them are the most misunderstood and neglected women and girls in the society. In recent decades, that is, from 1980 to 2010, the number of women in prisons and jail has increased almost eightfold.

Therefore, the criminal justice system has acknowledged the society needs to understand the gender issues that have led to an increase in the number of women criminals. This has increased the need to understand the psychological development of women and girls.

In order to understand the psychological development of women, one needs to understand the addiction and trauma experiences as well as their age, class and race. In the past criminologists were indifferent to female crime. However, in the 21st Century, that is no longer the case.

Why Women turn to Crime

Despite a decrease in violent crimes against women, the rate of increase of female criminals is higher than that of male criminals. This can be attributed to a combination of factors. There is an increase in non-violent property crimes in women, building new facilities for women, and tougher sentencing laws for women when it comes to drug offenses. Depending on their class and race, there are specific issues that lead women to crime.

Female offenders usually have a history of sexual or physical abuse. Many times, at the time of arrest, they are the primary breadwinners and they have distinctive mental and physical needs. Most of the time, their criminality is economically motivated.

Females are often perpetrators of child abuse. For a long time, people assumed that women never committed acts of sexual abuse against children, however, the concern of such acts increases with time. Women are often involved in sexual abuse of children.

Women Involved in Child Abuse

Initial studies showed that female-perpetrated acts of child abuse were at about 5% of all reported cases. However, recent clinical statistics show that this number is much larger than initially assumed. Children often undergo sexual abuse in day care facilities. Recent estimates show that more boys than girls undergo sexual abuse in the hands of women. However, some studies suggest that female children undergo sexual abuse from both men and women.

There’s is a direct relationship between female criminality and physical and sexual abuse. After analyzing a few life-history surveys, researchers have found an Extended Strain Theory. This means that serious female criminality roots from deep psychological effects of abuse. Using this theory, the society can try to lower the prevalence of crime amongst women. Criminologists agree that the gender gap in crime is a universal phenomenon. Women generally commit less acts of crime. Experts say that the gender gap in criminality is stable and varies over time. However, the causes of crime differ for each of the genders.

Women Behind Bars

Incarcerated women often encounter women with infectious diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. This is a health problem because it increases the number of cases of people with these diseases. Despite all the risks involved with an increase in the population of women in prisons and in the criminal justice system, many national debates still only focus on male populations.

Researchers have not adequately studied the population of female prisoners. However, women who experience victimization in their lifetimes usually acquire mental health problems such as depression and this often leads to their incarceration. This may also lead to substance abuse, which often contributes to the increase in female criminality.

Comparing Crime from both Sexes

There are various differences and similarities between patterns offending in men and women. Both men and women have heavy involvement in substance abuse and minor property offences. However, with serious crimes such as murder and robbery, their involvement is less. Generally, men have higher rates for all crimes except prostitution.

With serious crimes, the gender gap is larger than it is for minor property crimes. The social backgrounds of both the male and female offenders are similar. These social backgrounds typically have disproportional minority groups, underemployed and unemployed, poorly educated, and of low socioeconomic status. The main difference in male and female offenders of the same social status is that female offenders have more dependent children than male offenders.

Reducing Rates of Women in Crime

Since women are the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system, something needs to change. The society needs interventions and programming that reduces the involvement of women in the criminal justice system. These interventions should also change the negative consequences of an increased number of women in the criminal justice system.

The increase of involvement of women in the criminal justice system leads to negative health and well-being implications in the United States. Nearly 70% of women in prisons have dependent children under 18 years old. Many of them are single mothers and this leaves the society to take care of the children. Some of these children suffer neglect and abuse and eventually become criminals. Therefore reducing the numbers of women in crime will effectively lower rates of crime and child abuse.


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