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Women Offenders and the Gendered Effects of Public Policy

NCJ Number
Review of Policy Research Volume: 21 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2004 Pages: 31-48
Barbara Bloom; Barbara Owen; Stephanie Covington
Date Published
January 2004
18 pages
This article discusses the importance of acknowledging and understanding differences between female and male offenders and the impact of those differences on the development of gender-responsive criminal justice policies, practices, and programs.
Female offenders compose 17 percent of all offenders under some form of correctional sanction. This article argues that public policy has ignored the context of women's lives and that women offenders have disproportionately suffered from the impact of ill-informed criminal justice policies as well as social policies that ignore the realities of gender. The "war on drugs," for example, has had a dramatic impact on the lives of women, as it has punished women disproportionately in relation to the harm they cause society. Nationwide in 2001, approximately 35 percent of imprisoned women were serving a drug-related sentence, with the remainder distributed equally among property and violent crime. Drawing on the authors' report, "Gender-responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders," this article builds on the pathway theoretical perspective to find that in addition to the gendered impact of the "war on drugs," policy changes in welfare reform, housing, and other social policy arenas have combined to create a disparate impact on drug-abusing women and women of color. Key policy areas that are affecting the lives of women offenders and their children include welfare benefits, drug treatment, housing, education, employment, and reunification with children. This article also examines gender issues in sentencing policies and the "three-strikes" laws. After outlining principles for the development of gender-responsive policy and practice, the authors suggest policy recommendations designed to create women offender's parity with male offenders in the provision of services, to increase commitment to the provision of women's services, to review procedures for their applicability to women offenders, to respond to women's pathways into and out of crime, and to include children and families in the management of women offenders. 1 table and 37 references