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Role and Sentencing of Women in Drug Trafficking Crime

NCJ Number
Legal and Criminological Psychology Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 101-114
Rosalyn L. Harper; Gemma C. Harper; Janet E. Stockdale
Date Published
February 2002
14 pages
This study explored the role of women in drug trafficking crime and the influence of gender on the sentencing of this group of offenders.
Prison statistics indicate that there is an over-representation of women compared to men for the crime of drug trafficking. Women tend to occupy the high-risk, low-status role of courier in the organization of the drug trafficking trade. A secondary analysis was carried out of the demographic and sentencing characteristics of 1,715 drug traffickers caught smuggling drugs through Heathrow Airport between July 1991 and September 1997. Data indicated that women were adopting a more dangerous role by being significantly more likely to take the higher-risk, lower-status role of courier. Female couriers were physically carrying more drugs in terms of weight and value than male couriers. Women were statistically more likely to carry Class A than Class B drugs and hence subject to greater penalty. In terms of equity in sentencing, women were not sentenced more harshly than men in drug trafficking cases. Where gender did influence sentence length was in the sentencing of Class A traffickers before 1994 when men received the longer mean sentence length. Other variables included plea, role, and estimated street value of the drugs. Nationality, role, gender, and children were not statistically significant predictors of sentence length. Variables that were important in predicting sentence length for Class B traffickers included age, weight, and plea. Gender, nationality, children, and role were not statistically significant predictors of sentence length. Qualitative methods are needed to further deconstruct the stereotypes and identify the reality of women’s recruitment, role, participation, and motivation in the drug trafficking trade. 7 tables, 38 references