Sub hypothesis 1.2. The combination of social exclusions and gender exclusions influence the type of crimes for which women are imprisoned.
Women’s crimes are the crimes of the powerless. Largely excluded from corporate board rooms and criminal gangs, women have shorter criminal careers than men and their crimes are primarily property crimes. In 2000, women accounted for 16% of all people arrested (Home Office 2002a). Within this small proportion, they tended to be over- represented in arrests for fraud and forgery (mainly falsely claiming social security) and theft and handling (mainly shoplifting). They were markedly under-represented in sexual offences and burglary.
We asked the 26 professionals what, in their opinion, were the main causes of women’s crime, because we wanted to see how the women were viewed by the people who are shaping and administering penal responses to women lawbreakers. Some respondents demurred that the question was too complex, but the three ‘causes’ mentioned most frequently by the others were: addictions: (16); poverty: (15); abuse/ domestic violence/male duress (13). The others were: family background (4); mental health (3); homelessness (2). The only causes mentioned that were not unequivocally related to ‘social exclusion’ were consumerism/debt, (2); opportunity (1). However, identification of these ‘causes’ was typically accompanied by statements that there were usually several related factors involved and that they were impossible of disentanglement. In this context, the comment of four of the professionals typifies what many said as they oscillated between identifying drugs or poverty as the root cause of women’s crime:
First, drugs and then their relationships with their partners or their position as a single parent. Their lives as women; their responsibilities and expectations as women, their resources and support. And debt. (A.3)
First poverty and then duress from partners. Drugs are secondary. (A.18)
DRUGS number 1! Put it in big capital letters. Relationships, mainly with men, but relationships. And for a fair proportion it’s self image, a lack of self-respect. Which probably fits with the first two. (A.1)
Childhood sexual abuse and violent adult relationships. So it’s learned behaviour. What’s normal in your childhood, what your Mum and Dad do. What you’ve been brought up to believe is normal. (A.2)
However, there is no direct link between crime commission and imprisonment (even women convicted of serious crimes may escape a prison sentence - see Allen 1987). In many cases, whether or not a woman receives a custodial sentence depends upon the interplay of many socio-judicial and socio-penal factors known to affect her trajectory through the criminal justice system, beginning with the police response to a perceived crime, right through to the sentence and appeal (if any).
Police decisions to proceed are influenced by a number of factors, including perceptions of the extent to which a woman fulfils gender role expectations and is therefore likely to respond to informal social controls, making formal controls unnecessary (Horn 1995). Over and above this consideration, women are more likely than men to admit their offences, making it easier for them to be cautioned (Phillips and Brown 1998). The reasons for women’s apparent readiness to admit guilt are discussed in some detail by Worrall (1990) but may have less to do with an acceptance of legal guilt and more to do with, on the one hand, practical concerns about time and publicity and, on the other, an all-pervasive sense of guilt about being a failing wife and mother. Their additional reluctance to request a lawyer may be attributable to similar concerns, as well as