Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

"Offending Women": A Double Entendre

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

"Offending Women": A Double Entendre

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

This Article is based on a careful reading of the articles published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1) in its first one hundred years that address the histories, sentencing, housing (imprisonment), health, and other characteristics of women offenders. (2) The Journal published nineteen articles from 1913 to 1971 that fit these qualifications (about women offenders), and they are listed in Appendix 1. The articles range in topics, from what a women's reformatory should and did look like to descriptions of incarcerated women and the causes of women's criminal offending. The articles also vary in terms of the type and quality of research methods employed and the compassion, or lack thereof, the authors held for women offenders. Notably, most of the articles were written by women, and with the exception of one by Clarence Growdon, (3) the articles authored by men were not only the most sexist, but surprisingly, the most recent. (4)

In addition to a critical review of the nineteen articles, this Article also places the historical articles in the context of contemporary feminist criminology, a subfield which has grown exponentially in the past few decades. Although some themes are common in both older and more current studies, in other respects, the research differs. The most poignant difference is the invisibility of trauma, especially abuse, as a precursor to women's and girls' offending in the historical articles. In addition, the early articles either fail to address race and racism, or when race is addressed, it is nearly always done in a racist manner. Although this is not surprising given the time period in which these articles were written, it is still important to acknowledge. Despite some of the limitations, I do not want to diminish the importance of the topics these historical articles addressed, including the documentation of the dire consequences of poverty, "feeble-mindedness," "venereal diseases" (sexually transmitted infections), "epilepsy," and sexuality as risk factors for female offending, or more likely, labeling women as offenders.

Before reporting in detail on themes in the historical articles, it is useful to summarize the nineteen historical articles as a group. First, most of the historical articles were published in the first two decades of the Journal (1910 to 1929); indeed, twelve of the nineteen articles (six per decade for each of these first two decades) were published before 1930. Four of the historical articles were published in the 1930s, none in the 1940s or 1960s, only two in the 1950s, one in the 1970s, and none in the past three decades (1980 to 2010). Second, all but three of the nineteen articles were written by women. Interestingly, the two most recent articles were both written by men--Satterfield in 1953 (5) and Ellis and Austin in 1971 (6) (Austin is a female co-author)--and they are alone in their focus on women's biological nature as causing their offending or distinguishing it from men's offending. Third, the sixteen articles published in the first three decades were exclusively about women's prisons and reformatories and women prisoners.

In considerable contrast to the sixteen articles that preceded them, the final three historical articles published in the first one hundred years of the Journal are about the role of women police officers, (7) "biological nature" as an explanation of women's offending, (8) and the link between incarcerated women's menstruation and their aggressive behaviors. (9) This Article will not address these final three articles in depth, mostly because they are aberrations compared to the other sixteen historical articles. For the most part, Higgins's article is a somewhat defensive argument identifying the importance of having women police officers. (10) One can understand the defensive stance that Higgins and other women police assumed in 1950, given the intense resistance to women police officers that occurred two decades later when police departments were forced to hire women into patrol positions in unprecedented numbers after Title VII in 1972. …

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