The Female Offender: Girls, Women, and Crime


Edited by: Meda Chesney-Lind & Lisa Pasko

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    To Ian Yonge Lind

    To my sister, Laura White


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    What is clear to scholars and practitioners of criminal justice is that the female offender has long been ignored. Indeed, until the 1970s, serious discussion about the gendered nature of offending was absent from most criminological research and from correctional programming and policies. If girls and women were considered at all, their offenses were often trivialized or they were portrayed in highly heterosexist ways. The gendered nature of abuse and victimization that impacts girls' and women's crime and affects their pathways to court and correctional involvement was also largely overlooked or misunderstood by the system and by researchers.

    By keeping the female offender as the central focus, this book removes the shroud of invisibility from girls' and women's offending, their victimization histories, and their experiences with court and corrections. As in previous editions of this book, this third edition explains the historical and contemporary experiences of girls, women, and crime. It interrogates the complexities of current issues and offers critical examination of recent reports that girls and women are becoming more like male offenders in the criminal justice system.

    In addition to updated statistical data and literature on risk behaviors, arrests, sentencing, and incarceration, new to this edition is the greater discussion of several key areas, such as the increases in girls' arrests for assault over the past decade, the impact of sexual abuse and survival sex on girls' and women's court involvement, the criminalization of sexual minority girls in the youth correctional system, the growth of the female drug offender population, the increase in the number of executions of women, and the struggle to develop gender-responsive programming and stronger advocacy efforts in order to improve the lives of offending girls and women in our communities.

    Also new to the third edition is Chapter 7, authored by Janet T. Davidson, titled “Female Offenders, Community Supervision, and Evidence-Based Practices.” Using her recent study of men and women on parole, this chapter discusses the growth in the female offender community correctional population and examines the efficacy of gender-neutral risk-assessment tools and other supervision practices used to monitor female parolees and probationers. Should the system of community corrections be gender blind or gender responsive? Can evidence-based risk-assessment tools and supervision techniques effectively use a “one size fits all” method? Data for this chapter include both qualitative (in-depth interviews with male and female parolees) and quantitative data (recidivism and risk-assessment information) in order to demonstrate the gendered needs female offenders have and the gendered risks they navigate as they try to successfully complete parole. National data are also used to highlight gender differences.


    This book, like its second edition, took too long; fortunately, this round there are two of us to share the blame, which is only one of many reasons to collaborate. Also long is the list of folks who have made us think about things, helped us with ideas, and basically kept us honest.

    For Meda—I once again have to thank my colleagues in the Department of Women's Studies and the Department of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for their support. The freedom to write and think as I do comes from having a great workplace—one that celebrates rather than condemns work on girls and women. Special thanks this round goes to Brian Bilsky, Dick Dubanoski, Kathy Ferguson, Konia Freitas, Tonima Hadi, Susan Hippensteele, Katherine Irwin, David Johnson, and Mire Koikari for their encouragement and enthusiasm for my work over the years.

    For Lisa—I would also like to add such thanks to friends, family, and colleagues who have continuously given me emotional support and always offered avid interest in this research. To name a few, my parents, Jean and Eugene Pasko, and my sister, Laura White, as well as Christopher Bondy, Marilyn Brown, Paul Colomy, Janet Davidson, Moira Denike, Felix Dover, Hava Gordon, Stephanie Hedrick, Terri Hurst, Michael Kohan, Nancy Marker, Lisa Martinez, Dave Mayeda, JD McWilliams, Don Orban, Andrew Ovenden, Laura Padden, Scott Phillips, Stephen Scheele, Tina Slivka, and Rick Vonderhaar.

    Both of us are fortunate in our respective communities. Hawaii is such a rich and wonderful social environment within which to work and live. Close association with the Office of Youth Services and the many social service and public agencies with whom they work has greatly enriched our lives and work. Bernie Campbell, David Del Rosario, Rodney Goo, Carl Imakyure, Cheryl Johnson, Dee Dee Letts, Bert Matsuoka, David Nakada, Bob Nakata, Tony Pfaltzgraff, and Suzanne Toguchi have kept us in touch with the youth of Hawaii and their issues. Marcy Brown, Jo DesMarets, Louise Robinson, Martha Torney, and Marian Tsuji and have given us much-needed help in understanding the issues for adult women offenders. All of these folks have kept us in the community and closer to the reality we want and need to write about. Likewise, Colorado is also a wonderfully cooperative environment in which to conduct applied research. Many thanks to the Division of Criminal Justice (with special thanks to Michele Lovejoy), Colorado Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Council, Colorado Coalition for Girls, Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, and Colorado Springs Women's Resource Agency for their ongoing support of girl-centered justice issues.

    No work of this scope, though, could have been considered without an equally rich national and international community of scholars with whom we shared ideas, expressed frustration, and plotted strategies. Many of these folks are scholar/activists, so their work is enriched by their commitment to seek not only the truth but also social justice. We extend deep thanks here to Christine Alder, Joanne Belknap, Barbara Bloom, Lee Bowker, Kathy Daly, Mona Danner, Walter Dekeseredy, Mickey Eliason, Kim English, Karlene Faith, Laura Fishman, John Hagedorn, Ron Huff, Tracy Huling, Russ Immarigeon, Nikki Jones, Karen Joe Laidler, Vera Lopez, Dan Macallair, Mike Males, Marc Mauer, Merry Morash, Barbara Owen, Ken Polk, Nicky Rafter, Robin Robinson, Vinnie Schiraldi, Marty Schwartz, Francine Sherman, Andrea Shorter, Brenda Smith, and last but certainly not least, Randy Shelden.

    Nationally and internationally, practitioner/scholars have insisted that they be listened to as well—to understand how girls and women they work with in their communities live. Here we must thank Ilene Bergsman, Kimberly Bolding, Carol Bowar, Alethea Camp, Ellen Clarke, Sue Davis, Elaine DeConstanzo, Jane Higgins, Elaine Lord, Judy Mayer, Ann McDiarmid, Andie Moss, C'ana Petrick, and Paula Schaefer for keeping this work in touch with their reality. Also, wonderful journalists who care about girls and women have worked with me to publicize their situation while also doing important muckraking work that criminologists should have done and would have in better days. Special thanks here to Gary Craig, Adrian Le Blanc, Elizabeth Mehren, Marie Ragghianti, Nina Siegal, and Kitsie Watterson.

    Most important, our heartfelt thanks to the girls and women who found themselves in the criminal justice system for having the courage to speak the truth in the face of extraordinary pain. Many of these girls and women must remain anonymous, but fortunately not all. Thanks, most of all, to Linda Nunes for her friendship after so many years, and for giving the hope that women can make it through such systems and survive with integrity. Thanks also to Dale Gilmartin for her help with the girls' issue and her courage to write about her own experience, and to Michelle Alvey for her strength, courage, and trust. We hope that we've done justice to your insights and your experiences.

    Finally, thanks to Jerry Westby for never giving up hope that this book would appear. Thanks also to Erim Sarbuland for the final push over the top.

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    About the Authors

    Meda Chesney-Lind, Ph.D., is 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 Regents' 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, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Denver. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and her 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. She recently finished 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, Colorado. In addition to being co-author of The Female Offender, she has also authored several articles, book chapters, and technical reports that focus on girls' experiences inside and outside the correctional system.

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