According to a self-report study, women were less likely than men to have offended and commited a crime in the last year (11% compared with 26%). Women ‘grow out of crime’ – they are most likely to desist from offending in their late teens. The peak age of reported offending for girls was 14. (The peak age of recorded offending for girls was 15, compared to 19 for men). Criminal statistics show that, in 2002, only 19% of known offenders were women. Theft and handling is the most common indictable offence for women accounting for 57% of known female offenders in 2002. Female arrestees identified as having drug problems are more likely than men to have received drug treatment, spend more money on drugs, report recent use of more harmful drugs and are more often referred to a drug rehabilitation unit.
16% of those arrested for notifiable offences are women but the proportion is higher for fraud and forgery (27%) and theft and handling (22%). Research suggests that following arrest , women are more likely than men to be cautioned and are less likely to have their cases classified as ‘No Further Action’ or be charged. This partly reflects the fact that women are more likely than men to admit their offences and to be arrested for less serious offences.
When sentencing is concerned women are more likely than men to be discharged or given a community sentence for indictable offences and are less likely to be fined or sentenced to custody. Women sentenced to custody on average receive shorter sentences on average than men.
Top crimes women are most associated with:
- Theft from shops
- ‘Other’ wounding
- Burglary of all kinds
- ‘Other’ fraud
- Production, supply and possession with intent
- To supply a Class A controlled drug
- Summary motoring offences
- Handling stolen goods
Women prisoners make up just over 6% of the prison population. There were, on average, 4,299 women in prison in 2002. Between 1992 and 2002, the average population of women in custody rose by 173% as against 50% for men, reflecting sentencing changes at the courts.
Many women in prison have committed only minor offences and pose very little risk to their communities. Some argue that imprisoning a woman can have a disastrous effect on her family as well as herself. Additionally, the large number of women being sentenced to short-term prison sentences for minor offences has led to a general over-crowding problem in women only prisons.
A number of studies have reported on the background of women offenders. They found that most women offenders are mothers who have no work outside the home and had problems at school and left with few qualifications. Most are on state benefits and in debt and have accommodation problems and have experienced some form of abuse and suffered psychological distress and have serious problems with alcohol and drug misuse. A good number of women prisoners have been in local authority care as children and some have lost the care of their own children.
Why are more women being arrested and sentenced in 2011? One of the theories that has been forwarded is the ‘Masculinity Theory’.
It is generally accepted that men commit more crime than women; a statistic that has led many to look for an explanation for such disparity between the sexes. One explanation has proposed that masculinity and crime are inherently linked, and apparent increases in female offending in recent years has led some to conclude that this must be the result of women’s increased masculinity. Research aimed at identifying this increase has failed to yield consistent results. This study utilised a self-perception measure of masculinity and femininity to explore this idea with four groups of women. A total of ninety-seven violent female offenders, non-violent female offenders, full time mothers and professional women were questioned.
Results found that offenders perceived themselves as possessing significantly more masculine characteristics than non-offenders, and that violent offenders perceived themselves as the most masculine. Specifically, more offenders perceived themselves as glamorous, adventurous and rude, and more violent offenders thought of themselves as aggressive. Perceptions of a ‘typical women’ were also measured in an attempt to measure how different participants viewed themselves from other women. All of our women saw ‘the typical woman’ as more feminine and less masculine than themselves.
What could stop this increase in female offending?
The Ministry of Justice wants to look at the following areas:
Targeting anti-social attitudes and anger, self-control, family processes (e.g. affection and supervision). The removal of anti-social friends was associated with reductions in women’s re-offending rates.
Targeting general educational needs was associated with a reduction in women’s re-offending.
The evidence of in-prison drug treatment for women is mixed, but overall programmes based on cognitive behavioural approaches were more promising than those based on therapeutic community models.
Residential treatment after prison enhanced the effects of prison-based treatment.
There was some evidence that discharge or transitional planning and continuity of input from prison to community reduced reconviction rates among high risk women.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex