Theoretical Origins of Female Crime
High rates of imprisonment of women are a result of policies, which are
Why more women incarcerated?
More mandatory min sentences big focus on drug related offences
(possession of marijuana) concern of poverty
o Mandatory min sentence does not deter crime
Concern regarding classifications, often placed into of solitary confinement
Critical Feminist Criminologist: programs are not addressing practical
realities that are sending women into prison.
o Fourteen-year-old placed in a youth facility for one month in 2003
after throwing crab apples at the mailman
o Suicide in jail
Walter Dekeseredy (2009) Female Crime: Theoretical Perspectives Women and criminal
justice system, A Canadian Perspective pg. 31-59
Street crime, conjugal violence, genocide, white collar/corporate
o Genocide to terrorism; the product mostly of men.
o Violent crime exceeds women
Question of masculinity exaggerated form of masculinity
Corporate Crimes crimes of the powerful are usually male
Usually white males have the high paying jobs
o Mediatized cases for men
Massacre in Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Montreal Dawson
School Shootings: Colorado movie theatre, Elementary School
Major shootings tend to be men
o Mediatized cases for women
The murder of Reena Virk = vicious murder led many
Canadians to conclude that there is a new wave of ―violent,
unruly women…running amok‖ (behave uncontrollably)
o Violent crime for men vs. women
Reena Virk (beaten to death by a group of 14-16 year old girls)
Girls are no longer soft and sweet, more dangerous and
Mean girl phenomenon.
o Serial killer woman, sex worker portrayed very manly in movie.
o For example, US movies, = women in conflict with the law are
masculinized monsters, lesbian villains, incarcerated teenage predators, or
pathological killer beauties.
o Film masculinized the character of Aileen. Dressed in men’s clothing,
physically larger and dominates her petite, more feminine partner. Wurnos
1 is the sole provider and the one who controls physical contact in the
Theories are grounded in personal experience or what people see or hear or read
in the media (like opinions).
Theory: a set of interconnected statements or propositions that explain how two or
more events or factors are related to one another.
o Bad Theories of Crime
Many current policies gave been derived from bad theories of
crime. (Ie. Poverty as a risk of crime)
Use risk assessment instruments which came out of insurance
industry (probability of patterns)
Structural conditions that put women in the crime
needs are accounted as risks, which causes over
classification of women in max security.
Ex: borderline personality disorder characterized by disconnection from society
(more impulsive, gamble more)
No atavistic traits among women criminals
2 It tends to pathologies (biological deficit to crime) which neglecting past histories
of women in prison not taking into account the causes
o CURRENTLY FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME IS criminalized not
part of DSM
o Lombroso & Ferrero
Positivism assumes that human behaviour is determined
and can be measured/observed
Concerned with drawing our attention to the characteristics of
criminals rather than their behaviour.
Criminals were “biological throwbacks” or atavistic. Not as
far along the evolutionary ladder as law abiding human beings.
Traits of Female Offenders:
Because many female offenders were young, they showed fewer atavistic
characteristics than male criminals.
o Equated to being monsters, but criticism: double sword (classical beauty
and manipulative) because able to hide behind that.
Earliest form of positivist theory focused on characteristics
Their analysis also dismisses the influence of broader social,
political, economic and cultural determinants of crime.
Modern day writings (Pollak)
Dual Focus Theory of Female Crime, focuses on both the biological causes of
female crime and causes of the reactions to those offences.
Biological factors cause females to commit crimes; however, female crimes are
more likely to involve sex or are cunning/deceitful works in their favour.
o Chivalry rooted in social construction of women as passive, dependent and
requiring the protection of men.
Pollac associated women’s ability to deceive criminal justice
officials with passive role they traditionally play during sexual
Theories are not reflection to truth (open to interpretation)
Aboriginal women prisoners: way higher rates of incarceration.
Ignores that women are often treated more harshly by police
especially women of colour.
o Women‟s Liberation/Emancipation Theories
Arrests between men and women
Dramatic increase in women being arrested for robbery,
embezzlement, and burglary.
Movement opened up new roles for women in the military,
education, business and politics, it also opened up new
roles for women in crime, which had historically been
dominated by men.
o Young girls involved in more drinking, stealing,
gang activity and fighting (male roles)
3 Female crime is limited mainly to property offences and
that violent female crime has decreased.
Based on police statistics, which are not accurate indicators
of the extent of crimes committed by men and women.
o Changing focus/policies (ex: adoption of the zero
tolerance less discretion, higher charge rates)
o Statistics can give a certain impression of a situation
that may not be accurate
o Power-Control Theory (Hagan/Gillis and Simpson)
Familial dynamics between mother and father & delinquent
behaviour of adolescents
Hagan (1989): Patriarchal vs. Egalitarian
Lower rates of female delinquency in families where father
Parent’s positions of power in the workplace are
reproduced at home and affect the probability of their
children committing delinquent acts.
Patriarchal: father is the income earner, goes outside
home to make living, mother child barrier (responsible for
socializing and controlling the children), = men risk takers
o Less female deviance (criminality)
Egalitarian: both parents are working, encourages risk-
taking behaviour of boys and girls such as delinquency.
o Socially reproduces daughters who are prepared
along with sons to join the production sphere.
Simplistic patriarchal view (Today women are working and
taking care of the home)
Most married working women do all the cooking, cleaning
and childcare and most of them lack decision-making
Ignore the influence of the following important variables:
social class, negative parental sanctions, peer group
influence and the role of school.
o Liberal Feminism:
Ex: Only 22% of Prime Minister Harper’s 32 members Cabinet
were women. None of the female Cabinet ministers was in charge
of Harper’s top priorities.
Equal opportunity through legislation
o Social Feminism
Women are unable to have autonomy and agency in their lives
because they are so economically dependent on men
4 o Structural Action Theory
Notion of corporate crime and how it tends to be white male
Women are more likely to be blue-collar, part time and lack
o Persistent Obstacles for feminist scholars:
Database largely male dominated empirical study
Difficult to get credibility
Feminists are labeled as radical & politically motivated.
Elizabeth Comack (2006) “Introduction: Making Connections Class, Race, Gender
o Karla Homolka atypical female offender
When charged with violent offence, it is most likely to be
level one or common assault.
Hamolka grew up in suburban middle class home, while majority
of women who come into conflict with the law come from
marginalized economic situations.
Race: Homolka’s whiteness can be contrasted with the
overrepresentation of Aboriginal women and women of colour in
Class/Race/Gender intersect in the lives of criminalized
o Gender inequality in Canada comes in a number of forms, but the most
apparent manifestation is economic.
o Single Parents: Nature of work available to women (part time, blue collar)
o Women who get in trouble: young, poor, under educated and unskilled.
o Over 80% incarcerated women in Canada - for poverty related offences.
o Being unemployed at time of arrest is huge
o Some commonalities among men and women being incarcerated. Lower
socioeconomic level in society. Generally unemployed at time of arrest.
Substance abuse lack of discharge planning when released.
o Aboriginal Women Prisoners
First Nations, Metis, Inuit: highest rates of incarceration to federal
1/3 of incarcerated population are aboriginal whereas 3% of
The overrepresentation of Aboriginal women more acute than for
o Additional Considerations
Harder to find jobs. High rates of systematic violence
Sexual, physical and emotional attacks are interrelated and
inter-generational in our communities.
Higher rates of single parents; often because father incarcerated
5 54% of aboriginal people had not completed high school.
Looking at history, loss of trust with agents of law and order.
The process of colonization—including colonial state
policies such as Indian Act.
Higher involvement is sex trade industry highly stigmatized,
criminalized and lots of violence.
Substance Abuse is a form of escape & copings that leads to
process of devaluing.
Pollack suggests that Black women’s conflicts with the law concern to assert
their independence and resist marginalisation and state enforced dependency
(such as welfare)
Locating Criminalized Women
Lower income & Lower Education