Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Key Findings from the Drug Use Careers of Female Offenders Study

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Key Findings from the Drug Use Careers of Female Offenders Study

Article excerpt

The Australian Institute of Criminology is undertaking research on the drug use careers of adult males, females and juveniles incarcerated in Australian prisons. The objective of the Drug use careers of offenders (DUCO) female study is to contribute to the empirical evidence about the interaction between drug use and criminal offending among incarcerated women. The results of the DUCO male study were released in 2003 and the results of the DUCO juvenile study are expected in 2005. The female study comprised 470 women who were incarcerated in prisons in six jurisdictions in Australia in 2003. The majority of these women offenders reported persistent offending and extensive drug use histories. Results have identified important differences in the patterns of drug use of women as compared to men. Risk factors for drug use have also been identified, including early exposure to drug and alcohol problems by family members, incarceration as a juvenile, mental health problems, and sexual and physical abuse. Understanding patterns in offending and drug use, and the connection between the two, may assist in the development of interventions and crime reduction strategies for women offenders.

Toni Makkai


Illegal drug use has been identified as an important factor in criminal offending (White & Gorman 2000; Chai ken & Chai ken 1990). However, until very recently, studies of drug users and the relationship between drug use and crime have focused almost exclusively on male offenders (Willis & Rushforth 2003). Women who had drug or alcohol problems or who broke the law were considered somehow worse than men with the same problem. These women were seen as 'doubly deviant', as women who have not only violated legal conventions but who have also violated social norms about appropriate feminine behaviour (Broom & Stevens 1991; Lloyd 1995).

A growing body of research has examined female offenders and female drug users separately, in comparison to males, and in relation to their gendered social roles. A number of gender differences have been found that highlight the importance of examining women's drug use separately from men's. For example, addicted women are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health problems, more likely to combine drugs and alcohol, and to begin and sustain an addiction through association with an addicted male associate (Pohl & Boyd 1992).

Many studies have noted the high prevalence of drug use among incarcerated women both in Australia and overseas (Hockingsetal. 2002; Denton 1994; Kevin 1994; Ekstrand 1999). However, there is considerable debate as to whether the link between drugs and crime is causal. There are essentially three main explanatory models for the relationship between drugs and crime (White & Gorman 2000: 170):

1. drug use leads to crime;

2. crime leads to drug use; and

3. drug use and crime are not causally related but are the result of a third factor.

Under the first scenario, drug use leads to crime due to the pharmacological properties of drugs, to acquire money to pay for drugs, or to the violence associated with the drug trade (Goldstein 1985). According to the second explanation, those who engage in crime are exposed to social situations in which alcohol and drugs are readily available and their use is reinforced. According to the third model, drug use and crime occur simultaneously due to a common cause, such as childhood abuse, early school failure, family characteristics, or neighbourhood disorganisation (White & Gorman 2000). Rather than being two separate populations, drug users and offenders coexist in some social groups and the motivating factors for drug use and crime are the same - excitement or risk-taking (Chaiken & Chaiken 1990; Denton 2001). The DUCO female study provides empirical data through which to explore the relationships between drug use and offending among women offenders. …

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