Tag Archives: criminal justice

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Ferro & Saltzman

Ferro, C., Cermele, J., & Saltzman, A. (2008). Current perceptions of marital rape: Some good and not-so-good news. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23, 764-779.


1.      Main Thesis: Ferro, Cermele, and Saltzman conducted a study that found that current college students and college alumni do not endorse rape myths at high levels. However, their study does show that victim-rapist relationship significantly affects perception of the crime.

2.      Body of Evidence: The authors conducted an Internet-based survey of 85 undergraduate students at and 44 alumni of a small liberal arts college. They randomly provided each participant with a vignette depicting either a marital rape or an acquaintance rape scenario. They then used the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale to assess the participants’ acceptance of rape myths and the Rape-Supportive Attributions Scale and the Sex-Role Stereotypical Victim Blame Attributions Scale to assess false beliefs about rape and level of blame attributed to the victim, respectively. The authors were specifically seeking any differences in the responses of participants based on participant sex and participant cohort (that is, whether they were current students or alumni). The authors found that perceptions of rape were more realistic than expected; participants were not very supportive of rape myths and were sympathetic toward victims (p. 772). However, victim-rapist relationships significantly affected how participants thought about rape. The study showed that “support for false beliefs is greater for participants who read about marital rape than for those who read about acquaintance rape” (p. 773). In addition, the authors found that, as expected, men were more likely to support rape myths than women. However, the authors’ hypothesis that the older cohort would be more supportive of rape myths proved to be untrue.

3.      Conclusions: The authors found that participants’ support of rape myths was fairly low, but also that the relationship between victim and rapist significantly affects how people understand rape. In other words, people (male and female equally as mentioned on p. 775) are still unsure of how to assess blame in situations where the victim and offender are in a romantic relationship (as in marital rape). In addition, the assumption that younger generations are more aware in regard to sexual assault may not be true. The authors call for increased research on the “development and maintenance of rape myths” in order to discover how overall support of rape myths can be low while sexual assaults are high (p. 777).

4.      My Conclusions: I was impressed by the detail of this study as well as the authors’ careful explication of the limitations of their work. For example, they note that these results cannot necessarily be extended to noncollege populations; they even acknowledge the limited work that has been done on noncollege populations in this area in general. The authors also addressed a limitation that I think is particularly important: that “participants’ responses may be driven by their need to provide socially acceptable answers” (p. 777). There is really no way to (ethically) control for this, and I think it is a significant limitation—perhaps one that would have deserved a little more attention if the scope of this article had been larger. However, the authors explicitly state that this study is about attitudes toward rape. Using their analysis of such attitudes, they point to a discrepancy between attitude and behavior and highlight it as an area for future study. I think this is a smart and responsible course of action, and this unique empirical study is an excellent contribution to knowledge about social understandings of rape.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Owen

Owen, B. (1998). The mix: The culture of imprisoned women. In In the Mix: Struggle and survival in a women’s prison (pp. 167-192). Albany: State University of New York Press.

1.      Main Thesis: Owen works to describe and understand a cultural community in a women’s prison by focusing on three areas: negotiating the prison world by acquiring “juice,” styles of doing time such as adherence to prison code, and involvement in trouble or “the mix.”  Owen suggests that criminologists have a social justice obligation to study these communities and women’s ways of surviving in prison because incarceration “affects a disproportionate number of women of color and those marginalized” in other ways (192). This is a beginning point for conversations about how public policy constructs these women’s lives.

2.      Body of Evidence: Owen observed prisoners at Central California Women’s Facility in order to gain access to a complex prison culture. This article is framed around three main areas that shape the lives of prisoners at CCWF: “negotiating the prison world, which involves dimensions of ‘juice,’ respect, and reputation; styles of doing time, which include a commitment to the prison code; and one’s involvement in trouble, hustles, conflicts and drugs, known as ‘the mix’” (167). Negotiating the prison world involves prison smarts (described as knowing how to get things done), recognizing relationships with the staff, and mentor-style relationships. Styles of doing time refers to adherence to the convict code, which is a concept imported from male prisons that occurs roughly along generational lines; Owen found significant disapproval toward the younger generation because they “are rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate” (177). Finally, women prisoners’ lives are shaped by participation in, or refusal to participate in, “the mix,” which is “any behavior that can bring trouble and conflict with staff and other prisoners” (179). Owen discusses the drug mix, the homosexual mix, and the fighting mix. The drug mix is characterized as unstable, the homosexual mix is a “place of trouble,” and the fighting mix overlaps both (184). All these layers make up a complex prison culture that shapes women’s lives at CCWF.

3.      Conclusions: Although most of the women at CCWF express a desire to stay out of trouble and ultimately “survive the mix,” Owens shows that the cultural forces she describes necessarily impact their lives (188). She emphasizes the “damage of imprisonment” and its immediate negative effects (189). Owens includes several comments from prisoners who found prison time to be beneficial in some ways, but she concludes by suggesting that descriptions of prison life may help those outside to consider the obstacles women like those at CCWF have to face in their lives both inside and outside of prison.

4.      My Conclusions: This chapter was a very detailed ethnography-style study, but I was confused by Owens’s conclusion and methods. Although she seems to support a course of action that requires readers to conceive CCWF as a destructive place, most of the women’s comments in the conclusion seem to frame it as a rehabilitative space, at least compared to their lives outside. In addition, I was unsure of how the prisoners’ comments were obtained, since it sometimes seemed that they were having a conversation and sometimes seemed they were being interviewed. It would have been helpful to have this context. I suspect that these issues make more sense in the larger context of the book that this chapter appears in. In sum, then, I really appreciated Owen’s project to help those who have never seen the inside of a prison understand what it might be like to try to survive in a prison culture.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Carlson

Carlson Jr., J.R. (2009). Prison nurseries: A pathway to crime-free futures. Corrections Compendium, 34(1), 17-24.

1.      Main Thesis: Carlson details the recent history of prison nursery programs across 10 states. He points out the growing need to consider the situations of incarcerated mothers. Based on recidivism rates, positive media attention, community good, the potential to break the cycle of generational incarceration, and low relative cost, this article shows that prison nursery programs are in the best interest of all involved.

2.      Body of Evidence: Carlson reviews literature surrounding prison nursery programs and points out that more research is needed in this area. For example, he says that “The most recent and only study on the level of attachment between mothers and babies while in prison was completed in the New York prison nursery system” (17)(emphasis mine). Based on the work of other criminology scholars, Carlson argues that children in prison nursery programs may even have advantages over “low-risk community children whose mothers had no criminal history” (17). Carlson also gives time to arguments against nursery programs, and he counters them by shifting the focus away from the prisoner and back to the well-being of the child. Next, Carlson gives a brief review of each of the 10 nursery programs underway in 2008 by state: New York, Nebraska, Washington, Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and South Dakota. Most importantly, he focuses on recidivism rates for participants in each of these programs and establishes a strong pattern showing that participation in nursery programs significantly reduces mothers’ tendency to return to prison. Finally, Carlson details a specific study undertaken at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women at York. Using historical data provided by NCCW staff, he shows improvement in recidivism trends, decreases in misconduct reports, and inmate satisfaction associated the prison nursery program. He uses this detailed description to demonstrate the relatively low financial cost and significant social gain associated with prison nursery programs.

3.      Conclusions: Carlson found that inmates “overwhelmingly” supported the Nebraska nursery program, that the NCCW staff supported it, and that media attention was positive (22). In addition, Carlson found “a demonstrated lower recidivism rate of 16.8 percent for women who successfully went through the nursery program, compared with 50 percent for the previous population of women who were forced to give up their babies” (22). He reports that these findings are representative of other states as well, and concludes that it is in the best interest of all involved to implement and extend prison nursery programs.

4.      My Conclusions: It surprised me that only 10 states have prison nursery programs, and I wanted Carlson to focus on the international context in order to show that the U.S. is not very progressive in this area. I also found myself wishing that he would have foregrounded the financial justification for his conclusion more; it seems that those people who oppose prison nurseries based on their cost might be persuaded to support them if faced with the costs associated with repeat offenders. However, I also recognize that Carlson’s audience is other criminologists. He is not seeking to persuade naysayers (although his attention to counter-arguments on page 17 indicates that he at least thought about this); he is seeking to provide an empirical study and its implications to the criminal justice community. With this in mind, I think this article was well written, succinct, and complete. I certainly learned a lot from it!

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Fleisher and Krienert

Fleisher, M.S., & Krienert, J. L. (2004). Life-course events, social networks, and the emergence of violence among female gang members. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(5), 607-622.

  1. Main Thesis: Drawing from a large field study, Fleisher and Krienert examine the social role of gangs for girls and young women in North End, a Champaign, IL, community. The authors discuss independence from household, gang affiliation, and first pregnancy as life-course events that affect the engagement of these females in violent activities. The authors offer suggestions for using this information to intervene in positive ways.
  2. Body of Evidence: In this article, Fleisher and Krienert report and analyze data from a multi-year study conducted in North End, a poor, predominantly black community in Champaign, IL. Using personal social-network data, self-report individual gang member data, and self-report public health/sex survey data, they collected a sample from 74 women who self-identified as being affiliated with gangs in North End. The authors also incorporate experiential knowledge to give context to the setting. The authors studied the life cycles and lifestyles of gang women, including their community involvement, early family life, parental drug/crime history, gang interactions, involvement in crime and violence, and social reaction to pregnancy. The study showed that the median age for initial gang membership for girls in North End was 14—the same age at which mothers said daughters should “learn how to care for themselves” (p. 614). The mean age for active female gang members was 18.8, and the mean age of inactive female gang members was 22.5. The study showed a correlation between violence and the presence of male gang members. The study also showed that gang membership correlates with violent crime and that life-course events—like independence from household, gang affiliation, and first pregnancy — are intertwined. Most shocking in this study’s evidentiary results is the finding that first pregnancy always led to decreased gang activity. The authors suggest that this may be an especially productive time for “outsiders” to offer information and support to female gang members in North End (p. 619).
  3. Conclusions: Based on their findings that gang network members have long-term social ties, the authors suggest that intervention should makes use of social networks. They also recommend that the larger community work against isolation by providing services to gang networks, “even if it means setting up shop in previously segregated areas” (p. 620). Finally, they encourage social workers to pay attention to the times and spaces—in particular, first pregnancy—most conducive to intervention. Finally, they recommend that social workers offer information and community support in ways that align with local culture.
  4. My Conclusions: I find this article fascinating in its focused and thoroughly researched approach and in its realistic recommendations for policy in regard to positive intervention for North End females. I especially appreciate the authors’ attention to broad social change; rather than being interested in taking particular individuals away from gang life, they advocate interventions that will push into the community and benefit broader social networks. Further, they point out the importance of researched intervention approaches: “we are not advocating teenage pregnancy” as a way to intervene, but rather as “a specific opportunity” for making connections between North End and the larger community (p. 619). Finally, I applaud the authors’ recommendation to respect local culture in order to create social ties and increase the opportunities for positive interactions and interventions.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Ogle, Maier-Katkin, and Bernard

Ogle, R.S., Maier-Katkin, D., & Bernard, T.J. (1995). A theory of homicidal behavior among women. Criminology, 33(2), 173-193.

  1. Main Thesis: This article uses an adaptation of strain theory, which is explained through Agnew (1992), Megargee (1966, 1973) and Bernard (1990, 1993) and supported by some feminist theory, to discuss the production of negative affect leading to criminal behavior in women. The authors suggest that women are placed under significant stress simply because they are women in a male-centric world/society. Unlike men, women then tend to internalize the emotions that arise from stress and this results in a pattern of controlled lifestyles with occasional violent outbursts. Although the authors focus on female homicide, they are careful to point out that this theory could apply to any violent crime perpetrated by a female.
  2. Body of Evidence: Ogle, Maier-Katkin, and Bernard use combinations of established literature to explore the limitations of prior theories of female criminality. They theorize a new rationale for female violence by combining the work of Agnew and Megargee as well as the third author, Bernard (p. 176, p. 182). They begin to prove their new theory by showing how women are made to be Other in relation to men (p. 177) and how social messages about sex and motherhood inevitably produce stress/strain for girls and women. They then discuss how girls and women are socially constrained from expressing that stress and therefore must internalize it, resulting in high rates of overcontrolled personality, which is a common trait of homicidal offenders. The authors suggest that “women as a group are more ‘controlled’ than men” ( p. 181). This leads to a pattern of a low female crime rate combined with instances of extreme violence. Next, the authors use Bernard’s past work to show that this theory disproportionately affects women of color, urban women, and women of low social class because of the additional stresses—especially including social isolation—on the lives of these women. Social isolation results in different cultural understandings about the expression of anger as well as limiting women’s access to potential victims, meaning victims of women’s criminal behavior often are people they are close to.
  3. Conclusions: This literature-based study proposes a new theory of female criminality with special focus on explaining homicidal behavior.  This theory suggests that cultural strains disproportionately affect women as a group and especially affect disadvantaged women.  The authors combine Agnew’s strain theory with Megargee’s theory of overcontrolled personality to create a new theory that can explain the overall pattern of low female crime with some highly violent anomalies.
  4. My Conclusions: I think there is certainly a place for literature-based studies of criminality, and I found Ogle, Maier-Katkin, and Bernard’s choices of supporting theories to be logical and smart. However, I also think that the authors of literature-based studies have a special obligation to make their work relevant to the field and to broader society; although the authors were socially responsible in noting that “at the individual level, however, prediction (of female crime) would be considerably more difficult,” (p. 187) they did not provide a call to action based on their work. To be fair, this call to action might be implicit. In addition to setting up empirical studies at the aggregate level, I think the authors are suggesting increased attention to the ways in which women are placed under cultural strain.  I believe this article could have been even better if this latter call were made explicit.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Maher and Daly

I’m taking an online class this summer entitled Women in Criminal Justice. One of our ongoing assignments for this class is to post article reviews. Although I’m new to this field, it seems that we’re reading really important, canonical stuff … well, if there IS a “canon” in the sub-field of “women in criminal justice.” To that end, I’ll be posting most of those reviews. These documents are largely summative, but they also include a little nugget of opinion at the end.

Here’s the first one! *******

Maher, L., & Daly, K. (1996). Women in the street-level drug economy: Continuity or change? Criminology, 34(4), 465-491.

  1. Main Thesis: Contrary to the suggestions made by some recent work in the field, the expansion of the drug economy that arose with the increased prevalence of crack cocaine in the late 1980s and early 1990s did not increase economic opportunities for women. Instead, the widespread use of crack cocaine resulted in a larger pool of sex workers, which then limited earning opportunities for women drug users who had relied on the sex trade for income. Thus, the rise of crack cocaine actually contributed to the increased economic marginalization of women associated with the drug trade in this context.
  2. Body of Evidence: An ethnographic study was undertaken in Bushwick, a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn with a busy street-level drug market. The fieldwork began in the fall of 1989 and extended through the end of 1991. Fieldwork included observations and interviews. A total of 211 interviews, ranging from 20 minutes to 3 hours, with women crack users were recorded. In early 1992, data was sorted and 45 women identified about whom substantial information had been collected to report findings on. These women included 20 Latinas, 16 African-Americans, and 9 European-Americans ranging in age from 19 to 41 years. The authors examined women’s roles in the structure of New York City crack markets, selling and distributing drugs, selling drug paraphernalia, running shooting galleries, and copping drugs. Researchers found that women were a majority population only in the category of copping drugs; they were excluded from selling paraphernalia and drugs on more than an irregular basis, and they were intimidated out of running shooting galleries. In these examinations, special attention was paid to the importance of the potential for violence, relationships, protection, and performed attitude among these women.
  3. Conclusions: This ethnographic study shows some weaknesses and contradictions in current research. Chances for income in the Bushwick-area crack market during the time of this study arose based on who had particular traits, but perceptions of those traits were (and, likely, are) grounded in cultural perceptions that operated along gendered lines. The economic marginalization of women in this limited economy runs counter to assertions about empowering opportunities for women in such situations. Current research also often fails to take into account racial-ethnic considerations. The authors conclude that studies of women’s positions in drug economies have much more work to do in terms of taking into account gendered realities, race-ethnicity, sex, and sexuality.
  4. My Conclusions: I found Maher and Daly’s work to be careful, informative, and innovative—this last adjective despite the fact that it’s more than a decade old. They do an excellent job of explaining a prevailing narrative—that of increasing female emancipation in the drug trade—in criminology research and then respectfully complicating it. My concerns with this article largely involve bigger-picture items. For example, I was surprised at the lack of discussion surrounding the seemingly ethically questionable practice of paying drug addicts for their stories (but perhaps this is a commonplace in criminology research that I’m unaware of). I also wished that Maher and Daly had drawn more explicit connections to broader concerns in feminist criminology; that is, how can this study change our scholarship and practice in relation to how women are treated in the criminal justice system?