While most crime is committed by men, this chapter described the extent and prevalence of female offending behaviour. Women are responsible for fewer offences and the distribution of offences is different, with women perpetrating less serious crimes than their male counterparts. That said, women are involved across all categories of crime.
There is evidence of an increased anxiety over the criminality of women and girls, with the emergence of discourses highlighting the phenomenon of the ‘mean girl’, ‘women who sexually offend’ and ‘women terrorists’. The reality remains that women are far from being equal to their male counterparts, thus perpetuating more insidious forms of criminal injustice.
This ‘search for equivalence’ in the criminality of women and men has resulted in a tendency in criminal justice policy to disregard gender and treat women offenders in the same way that men are treated.
Since the publication of the Corston Report (Corston, 2007), there has been a considerable shift in the way in which women offenders are processed within the criminal justice system, with a concerted move to diverting women from custody into community-based sanctions. Though welcome, we have emphasized that policy does not always necessarily translate into practice easily nor does the message intended necessarily always translate with its original meaning intact. We provide evidence of the problematic nature of such delivering of well-intentioned ‘gender responsive’ programmes for women offenders.
The inequitable treatment of the female offender was examined with reference to human rights discourse, focusing in detail on the experiences of female prisoners. In contrast to men in prison, women and young girls who are locked up are extremely vulnerable. To be specific, they are more likely to self-harm and commit suicide and more likely to experience the painful and damaging consequences of being separated from their children and families.
A human rights framework offers an opportunity to create a more humane prison environment.