Girls, Women, and Crime: Selected Readings


Edited by: Meda Chesney-Lind & Lisa Pasko

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Gender and Criminological Theorizing: Gender at the Forefront

    Part II: Female Juvenile Delinquents: Victimization, Delinquency, and the Juvenile Justice System

    Part III: The Woman Offender: Women's Experiences with Drugs, Crime, and Violence

    Part IV: The Female Offender and Incarceration: Before, During, and After Incarceration

  • Dedication

    To the many women who work passionately and relentlessly to improve the lives of female offenders.

    This book is dedicated to you and to one such “warrior” in general: Kimberly Bolding.


    View Copyright Page


    This collection of readings makes several assumptions about gender and crime, and it aims to collect research that reflects these orientations. First, the collection assumes that gender matters in crime and crime policy, and, more specifically, that gender must be theorized in order to do good criminological research. For most of the last century, gender, if considered at all, was one variable among the many studied. Never was the social context of patriarchy considered when exploring the causes of crime, and rarely was the growing literature on gender consulted. As chapters in this collection attest, there is burgeoning research that does not reflect these shortcomings.

    Second, as the title shows, Girls, Women, and Crime assumes that the problems of girlhood are salient in the lives of adult women, and therefore it is vital that good research on “offending” women must include perspectives on both juvenile delinquency and crime. Usually, these issues are addressed in separate books, thus missing critical developmental links. Using a variety of academic and professional perspectives, the authors of these readings investigate the myriad problems and decisions girls and women face when they commit delinquent and criminal offenses and enter the justice system. Two central questions in these readings are (1) How does gender matter in crime and the justice system? and (2) What characterizes women's and girls' pathways to crime? In answering these key queries, the authors reveal the complex worlds female offenders must often negotiate–worlds frequently riddled with violence, victimization, discrimination, and economic marginalization.

    Girls, Women, and Crime addresses four critical areas of work in the field of gender and crime. Part I, Gender and Criminological Theorizing: Gender at the Forefront, provides examples of research that examines the gender and crime interface in feminist criminological theory. The first two readings in this section look at different ways of conceptualizing gender and patriarchy in furthering the understanding of victimization and criminal behavior, and the last two readings explore aspects of contemporary feminist thought and activism that have the potential for profound implications in mainstream criminology and for significant impact on the field.

    Part II, Female Juvenile Delinquents: Victimization, Delinquency, and the Juvenile Justice System, presents current research on girls, delinquency, and the justice system. No discussion of female delinquency would be complete without a discussion of girls' family dynamics, peer relationships, and experiences with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Accordingly, the first three chapters in this section examine how instability, disrupted families, school problems, and encounters with violence place girls on a trajectory toward offending, court involvement, and correctional placement. While girls' needs have been largely ignored throughout the history of juvenile justice, a focus on gender-specific programming has emerged in recent years, due to the strength and persistence of advocates and scholars in the area. The final installment in this section explores gender-specific programming for girl offenders, focusing on the aspects that must be included and the challenges that should be addressed.

    Part III, The Woman Offender: Women's Experiences With Drugs, Crime, and Violence, considers the lives and situations of adult women and the criminal justice system. As with work on girls, no discussion of this topic can neglect the critical role of victimization and survival strategies in the lives of these women. The first reading–a discussion of female homicidal behavior–analyzes why some women resort to lethal violence to end abusive relationships and why others–who are the majority of abused women–do not. The second chapter is a qualitative study of female sex workers and illuminates the various techniques the women use to avoid sexual, health, and physical safety risks. The last two readings look at the impact of the illicit drug economy and drug policy on the lives and choices of women drug users or traffickers. The last reading documents, among other things, how the war on drugs has evolved into an indirect and undeclared war on women, particularly African American women.

    Part IV, The Female Offender and Incarceration: Before, During, and After Incarceration, explores critical aspects of another unacknowledged national crisis: soaring increases in girls' and women's imprisonment in the United States. Prisons and youth correctional facilities were built to house dangerous men and law-violating boys, but they also increasingly house large numbers of girls and women. In a system that has long ignored the female offender, gender differences often cause serious difficulties. The readings in this section cover a variety of issues facing girls and women behind bars, from the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the culture of doing time to the struggles of negotiating re-entry into former communities. The section includes readings that underscore the challenges facing girls and women before, during, and after incarceration.

    The readings in Girls, Women, and Crime provide a sampling of what the last three decades of feminist criminology have produced in the area of theory, girls' violence and delinquency, women's crime, and justice responses to female offending. We hope it will be clear from a reading of these assembled chapters that criminological theory, as well as research into crime more generally, will benefit from a more sophisticated approach to the study of gender and crime. In short, in crime and crime policy–as in life in general–gender matters.

  • About the Editors

    Meda Chesney-Lind, PhD, is Director and Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Nationally recognized for her work on women and crime and the author of seven books, she has just finished two books on trends in girls' violence titled Beyond Bad Girls: Gender, Violence and Hype, written with Katherine Irwin, and Fighting for Girls, co-edited with Nikki Jones. Fighting for Girls recently won an award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency for “focusing America's attention on the complex problems of the criminal and juvenile justice systems.” She received the Bruce Smith, Sr. Award “for outstanding contributions to Criminal Justice” from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in April 2001. She was named a fellow of the American Society of Criminology in 1996 and has also received the Herbert Block Award for service to the society and the profession from the American Society of Criminology. She has also received the Donald Cressey Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency for “outstanding contributions to the field of criminology,” the Founders award of the Western Society of Criminology for “significant improvement of the quality of justice,” and the University of Hawaii Board of Regent's Medal for “excellence in research.”

    Finally, Chesney-Lind has recently joined a group studying trends in youth gangs organized by the National Institute of Justice, and she was among the scholars working with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Girls Study Group. In Hawaii, she has worked with the Family Court, First Circuit advising them on the recently formed Girls Court as well as helping improve the situation of girls in detention with the recent JDAI initiative.

    Lisa Pasko, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the department of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver. Receiving her PhD from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Lisa's primary research and teaching interests include criminology, the female offender, delinquency and the juvenile justice system, sexualities, and punishment. Her dissertation examined juvenile delinquency and justice in Hawaii, with particular attention on the differential impacts institutional policies and decision making have on boys and girls. Recently finishing a Colorado Division of Criminal Justice funded grant titled “In and Out of the System: Understanding and Addressing the Female Juvenile Offender in Colorado,” Dr. Pasko's latest research examines correctional attitudes about girls, their sexual behavior, reproductive decision making, and sexual identity issues. As a public sociologist, she is also a board member for the Colorado Coalition for Girls and is performing an ongoing evaluation of InterCept, a girl offender intervention program in Colorado Springs, CO. In addition to being co-author of The Female Offender, she has also authored over ten articles and book chapters and several technical reports that focus on girls' experiences, inside and outside the correctional system.

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