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The case on which Thomas comments appears to have been an excellent example of this

  • a first offender with responsibility for children, committing a serious offence of


Sub hypothesis: 1.3. Women are not only imprisoned for their crimes but also for their failure to act according to conventional expectations of ‘normal femininity’. On the basis of the evidence considered below, it is concluded that sentencers’ expectations of ‘normal femininity’ most likely continue to play a part in determining whether or not a woman is imprisoned in those cases where sentencers feel that they have a choice of custodial or non-custodial sentence, but that the extent to which these conceptions of femininity have influence will also depend upon their inter-relationship with many other factors, especially class and ethnicity.

This hypothesis is based on the vast amount of literature which argues that lawbreaking women are not only punished for the crimes they commit, but are also seen as being doubly deviant for offending against the role expectation accorded to ‘normal femininity’

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    that ‘normal women’ do not commit crime. And, as four fifths of cleared-up crime in

England and Wales is committed by males, it is an accurate assessment to characterise women as a lawabiding lot. Whether sentencers then sentence those women who do break the law more harshly for offending against both their citizenship and their femininity has been much debated in the UK. Certainly two of the professional statutory workers thought so:

I don’t think much has changed in the way courts see women. I guess they still think she should be ‘a lady’, should be running a household, looking after children. If she comes before the court she is seen as a bad woman, and penalised for being different. (A.4)

Magistrates think it’s worse for a woman to be on drugs. The criminal justice system is about men. Women on drugs are therefore seen to be out of place. (A.12)

During the early 1980s a series of research studies and reports suggested that women in the English criminal justice system tended to be sentenced more severely than men (e.g. Edwards 1984; Seear and Player 1986). Subsequently, a number of studies took issue with these claims (see especially Allen 1987); and the recent English research concludes that women are not sentenced more harshly the men, that they are sentenced less harshly (Hedderman and Gelsthorpe 1997). However, very few commentators have argued that all women are sentenced more or less harshly than all men. Rather, and on the basis of the demographic characteristics of imprisoned women, it is nowadays more usually argued that although the majority of women are, in comparison with men, treated more leniently by the criminal justice system, certain women - i.e. those who have been in care, have transient lifestyles, have their own children already in care, are living apart from family and male-related domesticity, or are members of ethnic minority groups (see Chiquada- Bailey1997) - are more likely to proceed through the criminal justice system and end up in prison (Carlen 1983, 1998). Such an argument does not contradict the findings of those who argue that overall women are sentenced more leniently than men. On the contrary, and as the authors of a previous statistical report which concluded that women are not sentenced more harshly than men recognised:

The likelihood that female offenders may overall receive more lenient treatment than males does not rule out the possibility that individual women receive unusually harsh treatment. (Hedderman and Hough 1994:4)

Who are these ‘individual women’? Both qualitative evidence (see Carlen 1983; Worrall 1990), and the statistical evidence on the characteristics of women prisoners presented at


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