INTRODUCTION There was once a saying that girls were made from sugar, spice, and everything nice; however, today’s female youth would hardly fit that description in accordance with the views of law enforcement agencies, politicians, community members, and the media. According to these sources, the female youth is made of aggression, violent behaviour, and sexual indecencies that would explain the reason for the increasing conflict the female youth is having with the justice system.
Female youth who come into conflict with the law have recently received a large amount of attention from the media, academics, and policy-makers. While the media portray a stereotype of the “new violent girl”, academics argue over how we should study, research, and conceptualize young female offenders. Concurrently, policy-makers and experts also struggle to accommodate the increasing number of young females who come into the care of the youth justice system, a system allegedly designed by and for males (Reitsma-Street, 1991).
In the end, we are left with the media’s depiction of the violent girl, academics’ concern for the neglected and victimized female youth within a patriarchal system, and the frustration of policy-makers over the lack of detailed and accurate information on young females (Corrado, Odgers, & Irwin, 2000). Most research offering explanations for increase in crime among females has largely focused on men as males were the majority law breakers. The introduction and increase of females into the criminal justice posed as a unique issue for policy makers, correctional facility administrators, police, and governments.
However, all of these extensions of the justice system views girls as out of control and needing punishment in order to keep all that is good and moral in society intact. In order to provide an accurate understanding of where the idea of this “rise in crime” ideology originated, the whole paradigm of girls violence, victimization, history, and interaction with the media, justice, system, and police must be scrutinized in depth from within the system and what the system fails to address as well. THE MEDIA Decontextualizing Crime
The media plays an important role in providing vast amounts of information to millions of readers who then can be often misguided by the “facts” described to them in news reports. News headlines related to crime account for almost 70% of news stories and major reports, with violent crime being over reported and crimes such as theft, or drug trafficking are under reported. Unusual and sensational crime stories occupy a disproportionate amount of time and space in the news. Random crimes receive more coverage than crimes among people who are known to one another.
Crimes with famous perpetrators and sensitive victims get more coverage than do the more common crimes among average or marginalized people (Wallace, 2008). There are many ways in which the media instils the notion of the ‘increasing crime wave panic’ among readers; the most common term used by criminologists is decontextualization. That is, the media represents crime news in such a way by using certain crime stories that invokes within the reader emotions such as fear, anger, and outrage against the perpetrators of these crimes.
In her study victimhood and the media, Moira Peelo describes this type of decontextualization as the ‘mediated witness’. Using homicide as an example, Peelo describes how newspapers can contribute to the construction of the ‘social commentary’ generated through a stylised dialogue made up of a collection of authorial techniques that attempt to align the reader emotionally with the victim. These techniques or ‘mediated witness,’ frames events in such a way that the newspaper reader is invited to share closely in the story of the crime by ‘identifying with the emotions of those have been hurt. In this way, the offence that has taken place, is able to pass into the cultural and social awareness of the community at large within which the struggle for the control of crime agenda takes place (Butler & Drakeford, 2008). In addition to decontextualizing the crime stories themselves, the media uses other techniques to further infuriate the public and fuel the ‘moral panic’ among readers by repeating the crime story in various newsprints. Techniques of repetition, defamiliarization, and objectification are deployed to achieve and fuel the emotionality (Peelo, 2006).
Moral Panic Moral panic can be described as a condition, episode, person, or group that emerges to become defined as threat to societal values and interest; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media (Altheide, 2009). Moral panic is what follows once the readers have fallen privy to the decontextualized text they have read as presented by the media. A moral panic typically focuses on evildoers – or supposed evil doers how come to be defined as the enemy of society.
Therefore, in the eyes of the moral entrepreneurs, these deviants deserve public hostility and punishment. Moral panic occurs when a substantial portion of society feels that particular evildoers pose a threat to the moral order of society. Usually, it is through increased public hostility, more laws, more control, more police, more arrests, and more prison cells as well as other efforts that the “moral order” is to be re-established or held in check (Burns, 1999).
In Bernard Schissel’s research journal titled, “Blaming Children: Youth Crime, Moral Panics, and the Politics of Hate (as reviewed by Aaron Doyle), Schissel states that most major news outlets are controlled by powerful players and this results in shrinking tolerance for alternative viewpoints. Newspapers have become somewhat of a “typographic television,” with an increasing reliance on disconnected visual images and shocking headlines (Doyle, 1998). This moral panic is further fuelled by politicians, police officials, and “moralizing groups” who describe themselves as expert news sources.
In part of his research on over three dozen news articles drawn from various newspapers, Schissel charges that many articles present specific sensational individual cases as the norm and are often intertwined with ideological visions of race, gender, and class. Youth crimes in these cases are often blamed on individual family pathology or uncontrollable teenage impulses. For example, Schissel describes in his research, an article from the Calgary Herald that stated children who kill are more likely to come from families with single mothers.
Articles like this imply that single mothers are to blame in the way they raise their children by not providing them with the moral values that is present in the majority, two parent, middle class family society. Schissel highlights how dominant cultural understandings about young offenders are developed in complex interplay between media, other political players, audiences, and broader systems of mean, such as those concerned with youth in general (Doyle, 1998). Shissel’s research lacks in the in his in assessment of public perception and the youth justice system.
Schissel states people do not make a detached assessment of the youth justice system based solely on the knowledge of the media. Instead while people learn about the justice system largely from the media, they base their attitudes towards youth from other knowledge, for example, direct experience (Doyle, 1998). In contrast, one can argue Schissels point of research by noting that he fails to take into account the prejudged images that the public has preordained into their psyche from the shadow of negative light that the media has cast onto young girls and boys in horrifically sensational news coverage.
Crime stories involving moral panic as a result, invoke fear as one of the primal emotions among readers which then becomes the underlying reason for crime control initiatives and government intervention (Altheide, 2009). In this sense, the media crime discourse in general is about what is “wrong” with our society, and it also preys on fears and insecurities about the future, because after all, youth are the “next generation” (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). What’s wrong with our society” quickly becomes “who’s against our society. ” Moral panic therefore does not only invoke fear, it also marginalizes youth who as a result become incarcerated and creates barriers between the marginalized youth and those who follow and abide by the law. Selective Presentation of Crime Statistics Girl’s violent crime rates are so small in number that the slightest increase creates a large percentage. Girls’ criminal behaviour is exaggerated further by the selective use of official statistics.
Official police statistics state that while the overall rate of youth charged with violent offences declined, the rate for female youth continued to increase through the 90’s, with the rate of charges for female violent offences increasing twice as fast as male rates (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). With the information presented like this, it is no wonder that anyone would assume that female adolescents are out of control. However, the information presented is slanted and presented in a view that puts the facts in the worst possible light.
Changes in the law itself can bring about changes in statistics. Other statistics have shown that the rates for violent crimes for females are considerably less than boys and have decreased over time rather than increasing. A considerable portion of the increase in violent crime charges for girls over the 1990’s came about because of increase in charges for common assault (eg. slapping, threatening). When common assault is excluded the increase in girl’s violent charges drops by almost 95%. This type of selective usage of crime statistics is used in almost every aspect, including homicide.
In 1998, according to Statistics Canada, 2 female youth were charged with murder, an increase of 50% (compared to one female youth charged for murder in the early 90’s). In this sense, yes crime has been increased by 50%, but this increase will be presented by the media as a staggering number rather than simply stating that the actual increase was minimal. The selective use of crime statistics, although inconsistent, serve the purpose of providing the public readers with “factual” information or “evidence” to support their articles on youth who have become out of control and must be managed by increasing the pressure of the law upon them.
Along with decontextualization, moral panic, and selective use of crime statistics the media is able to provide an “accurate” portrayal of what they want readers to believe about young girls and their increasing participation in violent crime. Who Gains from This? There are many speculations as to why crime receives so much media attention and does so in a way that it is presented to the readers to create an opposing force against the criminal context in which the crime occurs. Crime stories generate more readers therefore generating more profit for the papers.
In another notion, crime stories are fuelled by political standpoints by politicians and policy makers wanting to gain public support. Some might even say that law enforcers and their policy makers have the most to gain because the fear created by the moral panic can be manipulated by the state to gain control through harsher punishment. Many believe, for example Marxist theorists, that the moral panic “phenomenon” is created by elite, bureaucratic, policy-makers in co ordinance with the media to stablish rule over marginalized groups and maintain their ruling class status, in this case, over young girls coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Kelly Ellard and Reena Virk In 1997, seven young women and one teenage male, beat and killed young Reena Virk (of South Asian origin), in a planned attack. Media headlines followed as such, “Bad Girls: A Brutal B. C. Murder Sounds an Alarm about Teenage Violence,” “Killer Girls,” “Ruthless Violence a Part of Girl Gang Reality,” and “Teen’s Torture Again Reveals Girls’ Brutality” (Schissel & Brooks, 2002).
There were many speculations as to why this had happened. Victoria, B. C. was known as a relatively peaceful town with not much happening in terms of violent crimes. Many bystander accounts of this horrific act of violence expressed shock and the notion that they would never imagine that something like this could ever occur in their community. The media blamed the rising independence of young girls and ran with story headlines of violent behaviour.
By using terms like “girl gangs,” “torture,” and “teenage violence,” the media created a perception the young women in the face of Kelly Ellard whose picture was plastered on the front page of newspapers across Canada. Kelly Ellard, along with six young women and one male, were tried for the assault and death of Reena Virk. Ellard received a sentence of second degree murder. What makes this case so deliciously tempting to the media is that it defies the order of hegemonic contemporary criminal justice queries. Ellard was from a middle class, two-parent home family and had no history of violence or abuse in her home.
Her defence during her trial relied heavily on that factor. Virk on the other hand was South Asian (note: the media, police, and justice system were quick to rule out racial background as a motive) or East Indian as described by the papers, however, that fact was not released to the public until much later. The media also portrayed Virk as a child who was “dark-skinned” and had “trouble fitting in. ” In one article, it was stated that Virk had also accused her father of sexual assault and had been moved around to three different foster homes after attempting to run away from home.
By doing this, the media attempted to obscure the connection between constructed differences of a “troubled teen” with the systematic relations of power such as gender, racism, and class (Alder & Worall, 2004). It’s interesting if one might wonder what would have happened if the tables had been turned. If 14 year old Reena Virk, being of South Asian origin and coming from an immigrant family background, had murdered Kelly Ellard, the 15 year old normal, hegemonic middle-class white girl, coming from a two parent household with no history of violence or abuse, what would have happened?
How would the media have dealt differently with this case? Would race still be a factor left excluded in news articles and television reports? CONTEMPORARY AND CRITICAL THEORIES Evolutionary Theories Biological explanations for crime account for individual pathology and include things like mental disorders, biological heredity, and genetic makeup of an individual. All these things, explained by different researchers, are then used in scientific studies to explain how they contribute to that individuals’ criminal behaviour.
Although biological/evolutionary theories of crime and criminal behaviour have little support and cannot be proven fully, at one time, they were a predominant way of understanding criminal behaviour. Researchers such as Charles Darwin and Cesare Lombroso, also known as the fathers of fundamental criminology, frequently used biological theories to explain criminal behaviour. Although their theories were predominately developed for males, they offered insight on female criminality as well.
Lombroso and Darwin both proposed evolutionary/biological explanations of atavistic characteristics that they found common among the criminal deviant. In regards to women, women committed crime, according to this theory, because criminality was inherited as the women committing crime was setback on the evolutionary scale. These setbacks were visible in the physical features of the delinquent female such as; sloped foreheads, flattened noses, prominent features such as high cheekbones, and shifty eyes. These theories were not limited to male and female criminals, but to specific races as well.
Socialist Theories Socialist theories focus on the relationship (or lack of) between the delinquent individual and society or social networks in general. Therefore, the social “rules” that are shared by a society are correct and certain people who fail to conform do so because they have low levels of cohesion with society. Emile Durkheim, also known as the founders of modern sociology, states that societies with low levels of cohesion are typified by high levels of crime rates (Shissel & Brooks, 2002).
Other socialist theories focus on goals or specific needs that are not met, therefore people turn to crime in order to meet these needs. From a feminist perspective, this is a critical theory, attempts to understand the issues of inequality and oppression inherent in the socio-political order. Marxist and Liberal Feminism Marxist feminism generally begins their analysis of crime from the position that gendered divisions of labour result from larger class divisions of labour.
Because men have controlled the means of production in capitalist societies, Marxist feminists argue that they have also controlled most social institutions; as a result, women are dominated and controlled first and foremost by the social relations created by the mode of production in capitalism (Schwartz & Hatty, 2003). Additionally, much like the debate that continues today, some have argued that the oppressive nature of the capitalist/patriarchal system for women leads them to commit crime because they feel trapped in subordinate social roles (Schwartz & Hatty, 2003).
Liberal feminism, in the same respect, argues that laws need to be changed in order for women to have an equal advantage and equal rights (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). Patriarchy as a Criminal Factor In their study of patriarchy and female offending, Karen Parker and Amy Reckdenwald (2008) examine the relationship between female offending and patriarchy in both a public and private sphere. Our definition of patriarchy is a society or social context in which the man is the ruler of the home and the economic community.
In this study, the public sphere includes structures such as government, schools, and the labour market, whereas the private sphere includes the home and familial structure. In the larger macro-economic sphere, researchers argue that increased participation in the workforce for women resulted in increased opportunities for committing certain types of property crimes (eg. fraud). In their research, Parker and Reckdenwald offer arguments from researchers who claim that as women gain greater equality, they will begin to act more like men and commit male types of crimes (eg. serious crimes).
The same researchers also argue that crime among women is less prevalent in rural areas, where a larger amount patriarchal structure exists, for the reasons that women have responsibilities in the homes that minimize their connections (specifically for this research, criminal connections) with the larger social population (Parker & Reckdenwald, 2008). Economic marginalization has shown to be a factor in the increase of female delinquency. Households headed by females who work part time and suffer from poverty due to economic marginalization, have shown increases in the levels of crime among females.
In the smaller sphere of patriarchy (within the home), where not much research has been done, women are seen as the householders and their activities are limited. In this form of private patriarchy, it is hypothesized that because women are controlled within the household, they do not have opportunities to commit crimes in the social context. Not much research has been done to support crime among women in rural areas. One reason being, crime is not very prevalent in rural areas, or at least that is the general consensus.
In the sphere of private patriarchy however, crime is not present among females the way in which it would be in the public sphere. The Debate Traditionally, feminist theorist offer a challenge to the contemporary generalized theories of crime and criminal behaviour traditionally focused on males. Of all theories and explanations presented for the context in which female crime occurs, the most interesting has been the debate between feminist theorists and contemporary criminological ideologies that support a patriarchal view of society in which it was believed that differences between crime and gender was not an issue.
There is a debate about whether women’s greater economic equality results in an increase in female offending. Researchers have suggested that the women’s liberation movement is linked to an increase in female offending on the other hand, other scholars argue that women are not committing crimes because of equality relative to men or because of improved economic conditions, but instead that crime results when women are economically marginalized (Parker and Reckdenwald, 2008). The media is also privy to ideas of this debate.
For example, a Globe and Mail article on “girl gangs” and their activities in schools warns of the negative consequences of women’s struggles for gender equality. A police officer, and “expert on youth crime,” says: “We shouldn’t be surprised by what’s happening… What we’re looking at is ladies coming of age in the 1990’s, and girls are taking on much more aggressive, violent role… ” (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). VIOLENT FEMALES The Reality Not Published Girls can certainly be violent and at times their violence can take lethal forms; however it much less frequent, has different motives, and different targets.
Unlike men, women rarely kill their male partners out of jealousy, or use violence to defend their sense of honour (Schwartz & Hatty, 2003). Violence committed by females is seen in homicides where the woman kills her male sexual partner (usually the women is reacting to the precipitating violence of the male). In cases such as this, many women use the battered women’s syndrome as a mode of self defence when dealing with the criminal justice system. Another overarching scenario of feminine violence is directed at children (usually in cases where the woman is the natural mother of the child) (Schwartz & Hatty, 2003).
Rise in Violence What explains this rise in girl’s violence? Girls arrest rates are apparently higher than ever. There are many speculations and possibilities for this. One theory, much like Parker and Reckenwald’s study of patriarchy and crime, states that girl’s lives and experiences are changing dramatically (eg. Greater freedom, more stressful lives) that are leading to profound shifts in their propensities or opportunities to commit violent crimes (Steffensmeier, Schwartz, Zhong, & Ackerman, 2005).
If this theory proven true, then girls are truly becoming more violent and there really is a concern for young girls becoming that way. The other possibility states that girls arrest gains are completely artifactual, that is, it is a product of recent changes in public sentiments and enforcement policies for dealing with youth crime and girls who break the law are now being sanctioned in a more equal fashion to that of their male counterparts (Steffensmeier et al, 2005). As a result, police are also now targeting girls’ behaviours more frequently. Closing the Gender Gap
Young women’s violent behaviours differs from male violence in its frequency and it
its form, nature, context, and impact (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). Girl’s violence occurs more often in the “context of defending themselves against physical or sexual attacks or in the anticipation of an imminent assault. ” While serious, injury-producing violence is largely confined to young males; adolescent females commit minor acts of violence nearly as often. The encompassing and elastic definition of violence, therefore would contribute to closing the gender gap between violent girls and boys.
Girl’s violence is typically perpetrated within or near the home or school and among family and other primary groups; male youth are much more likely to commit serious or injury producing violent acts within or near street commercial settings and among acquaintances, strangers, or secondary groups. Thus, to the extent that aggression within private settings and against intimates is targeting by police or other control agents, female violence will seem more frequent and the gender gap will appear to be narrower.
Girls’ arrest trends for aggravated or simple assault may be especially prone to artifactual effects of policy changes since there are broad offense categories that encompass a heterogeneous collection of violent acts or threats of various degrees of seriousness and culpability (Darrell Steffensmeier, Jennifer Schwartz, Hua Zhong, & Jeff Ackerman. (2005). GIRLS AS VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE Media Coverage Victims and victimhood are central to the way in which newspapers position themselves and their readers in relation to ‘mega’ crimes (Peelo, 2006).
Media readily portray pathologized and demonized images of girls (and other minorities) by decontextualizing their behaviour and “attaching” their behaviour to ready-made labels by a variety of experts (Schissel & Brooks, 2002), in cases with the victims of crimes, they also relay to the public what or who is good and bad. Even in the case of Kelly Ellard and Reena Virk, Virk’s behaviour was scrutinized by the media, and she was both pitied and blamed for her victimization (Shissel & Brooks, 2002). News paper articles reported that Virk had been sexually abused by her father, and had attempted suicide.
They also stated that Virk was a runaway from home to “gain more freedom” and was unhappy with herself and suffered from depression (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). Critics also stated that earlier in the before she was assaulted and murdered, she had been beaten up by some of the girls in question, so the fact that Virk would continue to associate with them was, according to reports, her own fateful path chosen (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). Victimization and Horizontal Violence There are many questions surrounding the debate of why females engage in violent behaviour.
In Virk’s case, media reports drew attention around the idea that Virk was flirting with one of the girl’s boyfriends and apparently also stole her day planner. However, to trivialize this type of small incident as motive for murder misses the point of the reality in which girls commit violent acts of crime. It also, supports the media’s motives for decontextualizing the actuality and true source behind the emergence of girl’s violent behaviours. In a research study headed by Sybille Artz on girls involved in assaultive behaviour, Artz found that the girl’s participation in violence was integral to a view of life in which violence made sense.
Artz stated that girl’s behaviour, including violence, must be placed in its patriarchal context. In her 1998 analysis of self-reported violence in girls in Canada, Sibylle Artz, director of the School of Chile and Youth care at the University of Victoria, did precisely that, and the results are striking. First, she noted that violent girls reported significantly greater rates of victimization and abuse than their nonviolent counterparts, and that girls who were violent reported great fear of sexual assault, especially from their boyfriends.
Specifically, 20 percent of violent girls stated that they were physically abused at home, compared to 10 percent of violent males and 6. 3 percent of non violent girls. Patterns for sexual abuse were even starker. In 1998, roughly one out of every four violent girls had been sexually abused compared to one in 10 nonviolent girls. Follow-up interviews with small group of violent girls found that they had learned at home that “might makes’ right” and engaged in “horizontal violence directed at other powerless girls often with boys as an audience (Meda Chesney-Lind, 2001).
Reasons for this horizontal violence ranged anywhere from promiscuous sexual behaviour on the other girls part or letting the victimized girl now “her place” in the social setting. In her research, Artz found that many of these girls came from two-parent homes, were predominately white, and both their mothers and fathers worked outside the home. Nonetheless, they were abusive families in where the daughters were “emotionally abandoned” and fathers were “over controlling and abusive. ” In these girl’s homes, punishment was frequent and power was hierarchal, beginning with the father (Schissel & Brooks, 2002).
For many of these girls who grew up in this sort of environment, Relating back to the murder of Reena Virk by Kelly Ellard, in statements made as to why Virk was assaulted, beaten, and eventually murdered by Ellard, many of the girls stated that Virk was interested in a boy that one of the girls liked and stole her planner in order get the boy’s number and speak to him. The violence in Virk’s case erupted as a result of Virk not knowing her place in the social setting defined by the girls who came from predominately white, middle-class backgrounds.
Violence therefore, is not an issue of whether one girl stole another’s boyfriend or day planner, violence is about power. They have learned from their family experiences, and culture, that physical might is power and their only source of power is through controlling their female peers (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). Residential Tragedy and the Story of Helen Cote Nowhere in Canadian history is the link between victimization and criminal behaviour more clear than in the cases of the Aboriginal children who were taken from their families and placed in residential school in an effort to assimilate their cultural values.
Many of the children who attended these prison like schools, suffered neglect, deliberate male violence, and physical and sexual assault at the hands of their Christian school teachers (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). Helen Cote story’s is not a single narrative example of the kind of abuse suffered by Aboriginal children during the Residential School Assimilation process, in fact, her story is very similar to that of the hundreds of other young females who experienced similar neglect and consequences.
Helen Cote was six years old when she was taken from her home to be placed in what she describes as the “Residential Prison. ” As young girl, the first day of school brought about an excitement for Helen, who excitement quickly turned to shock and fear as she was stripped naked, slapped, and called names like “dirty Indian” while Catholic nuns attempted to cleanse her inside out by force (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). For the next ten years, Helen was terrorized, raped, and beaten. Her child’s body was not made for sexual and physical assaults and she began suffering from mental disorders at the tender age of ten.
She lived in fear and found solace in futile attempts to run away or attempting to kill herself. Eventually, she drowned her sorrows in drugs and alcohol away from the community and people she belonged to (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). She became numb of all emotion, learned to fight to defend herself, and developed distrust for the “white” man. As an adult, Helen has been in prison for stealing food and money to provide for her family. Because there is no nice way to steal money for food, Helen often resorted to violence to meet her basic needs.
Helen found comfort in prison as they were more humane than the residential schools (Schissel & Brooks, 2002). Her life story revolves around prison, broken relationships that she was never able to sustain, pregnancies and miscarriages, and having her children removed from her care due to her drug and alcohol problems. All of the relationships Helen describes being in, involve abuse and violence from her intimate partner (all of whom were also prisoners of the government funded schools).
Women like Helen are only 3% of Canada’s entire Aboriginal population, but account for 25% of the federal prison population. Helen’s narrative is one story, but many accounts of residential schools will have a familiar outline, and many of the survivors of these schools now have passed on their abuse and neglect into their homes and communities and broken families rummage through what’s left of the First Nation’s culture. In turn we are left with a generation of Aboriginal girls and boys who spend their lives in and out of foster homes and prisons for which we take no responsibility for.
PRISON AND REHABILITATION Unique Needs For a long period of time, correctional facilitators and researchers focused their attention on men largely as they made up the majority population of the prison system. However, recent statistics indicate that number of incarcerated women is increasing at an alarming rate, thus forcing the prison officials and the state to readjust their policies to fit the unique needs of women entering their system (Salisbury, Van Voorhis, & Spiropoulas, 2009). Women’s needs differ greatly from men.
Many women involved in the criminal justice system have issues pertaining to children, mental health, and sexual and substance abuse. Many are runaways and have no homes to go back to once they are released into the community. The issues of gender staffing in prison systems was reformed to fit the unique needs of women because many of the women admitted into corrections have templates of abusive male figures (whom they have usually dealt with all their lives) embedded into their psyche. Research has shown that women are more likely to be abused under the “protection” of the correctional system, both physically and sexually.
Mental health needs also differ greatly from men; disorders such as depression, anxiety, and self harm are among a range of psychological issues that are commonly seen among women offenders (Salisbury, Van Voorhis, & Spiropoulas, 2009). As this list goes, society is faced with what to do about these young girls who spend most of their lives incurring more and more issues while runny clockwise through a revolving door criminal justice system. The ideal way of dealing with these women is to lock them away from society in prison, for their own protection as well as societies.
Prison Most of society favours prison as system as a means to apply punishment to law breakers. Why? It keeps the “clutter” out of their “backyard. ” It is seen as the most formidable way of dealing with offenders who “deserve” to be punished for breaking the law. It’s dumping ground to place the “bad” in society, hence making society look cleaner and free from the “clutter. ” Traditionally, this “dumping ground” was a place that held predominately males; however, women have taken up a large population of the prison system in recent years.
Many young girls and women feel prison is safety net allowing them a place to get away from their lifestyle of substance abuse or sexual abuse at the hands of their intimate partners. Officials of the criminal justice system believe the same; that prison is place of protection. However, research has shown that prison can be a place of abuse, neglect, and further inhibit the female offender by removing her from necessary life resources and introducing her into a system of seasoned criminal “teachers” and acquaintances.
In a research study conducted by Nancy Wolff and Jing Shi on prison victimization in relationship to it being a ‘safe place’, the researchers found that females were more likely than males to report forms of victimization such as slapping, punching, hitting, kicking, or threatening remarks against loved ones. In no effort to downplay the facts on male victimization, females also reported greater rates of fear of physical and sexual assault in prison than their male counterparts. In related studies, females also reported gendered bonds between “seasoned inmate” who took them under their wings and taught them how to commit crime better.
As one female youth put it, “You go to jail…. you make friends and they teach you different ways of jacking people so you don’t get caught next time (juvenile delinquent youth serving time for theft). ” Statements such as this are common among females entering the prison system and can imply that prison is a system of revolving incarceration rather than rehabilitation. Programs Violence prevention for female adolescents, both as victims and instigators of violence, must be addressed from all levels of care.
While incarceration has been the majority method of dealing with adolescent females, new programs have been implemented in most correctional centers that address the unique needs of young females. Programs such as gender specific counselling for substance abuse, educational initiatives, drug and alcohol treatment, and dealing with victimization as a result of being victims of violence. Correctional facilities have implemented a number of programs targeted towards females and youth to address the issues of rehabilitation rather than reincarnation.
Many times, prison and corrections officials’ shied away from offering gender based programming for female offenders. For one reason, the female population was relatively small and the cost variant for offering gender specific programs would not fit the budget. The Scared Straight Program was an initiative to introduce youth females in custody to older adult life prison where they were subject to assault, abusive language, and invited to share in some of the experiences of life in prison should they continue to stay on the path they are.
Other programming issues tackle treatment and rehabilitation into society after release or on probation. For young females, more specifically, issues such as substance abuse programming and housing are looked at (Bell, 2003). Most girls in the justice system are poor and have come from poor families and one of the most important programming needs for them is the skills training necessary for economic survival and independence (Schissel & Brooks, 2002).
Since many of these girls are young mothers, there is also a need for advocacy for child care initiatives. Correctional centres today have many different resources for women to attend to help address their unique and specific needs. DISCUSSION The purpose of this research paper is not to give an opinion based theory of why girls commit violent crimes or, that girls who do commit violent crimes do so in circumstances beyond their control therefore should be excused.
The purpose of this paper was to strip away the veneers of scientific and patriarchal ideology and expose the relentless coercive workings of the justice system and how it relates to the media. In the case of young girls, I wished to point out that there are several factors that are ignored when crime statistics are reported by news and media and I attempted to highlight some of the research done to expose the underlying theories and issues that are not often reported when crime stories make headlines in the papers.