women commit various crimes in order to support their addiction, and this may lead to incarceration. Seldom do we fi nd women drug dealers, but there are some. Most women who tend to sell drugs gain entry into the selling market through a close male associate. Their time in the business is limited, since most users do not expect to buy drugs from women. It appears that female methamphetamine dealers whose lives more closely mirrored a normal lifestyle had a more positive experience than other women drug dealers, whether they were selling crack, cocaine, or methamphetamine. For these women dealers, selling was just a means by which they could achieve more in society and become more independent because of the extra income (Morgan & Joe, 1996). Other types of crimes com- mitted by women include assault, child abuse, and homicide.
Normally, we do not associate aggressive behaviors with women. Instead, we tend to think of them as loving, caring, and nurturing. However, research (Sommers & Baskin, 1993) has found that women will respond to aggressive behaviors in kind and they will be aggressive as a means of retaliation to previous acts of aggression that they have experienced. Sommers and Baskin (1993) also found intoxi- cation played a role in some aggressive behaviors exhibited by women. Perhaps one of the most dif- fi cult criminal acts to understand is the one in which a mother infl icts harm or permits harm to occur toward her child or children. Although both women and men tend to kill their child(ren), society pays more attention to the act when a woman kills her child(ren). In some high profi le cases of women killing their children, it was noted that they suffered from a mental illness that had not been identifi ed. Regardless of the reason, society is not sympathetic toward women who kill their child(ren). Other homicides committed by women in society draw attention to problems such as intimate partner vio- lence and economic inequality. As with all violent crimes, violent crimes committed by women has been decreasing, and the apparent increase is due mainly as a result in policy changes instead of actual incidents over time (Belknap, 2015). While these criminal acts are not acceptable behaviors in our society, the quest for the American Dream tends to force some people into crime so as to appear to be “normal.” Having briefl y discussed the historical foundation of differential treatment of women and the types of crimes committed by women, we now focus our attention on the processing of women through the criminal justice system.
Criminal laws not only prescribe acceptable behaviors for its citizens but also maintain social con- trol over them (Roberts, 1994). Women who do not adhere to prescribed gender roles and commit criminal offenses are viewed differently by our criminal justice system. Previous research (Farnworth & Teske, 1995; Erez, 1989; Kruttschnitt, 1982; Mann, 1984; Pollock, 2002; Spohn & Spears, 1997; Visher, 1983; Zingraff & Thompson, 1984) suggests that, as a group, women have been treated more leniently in the criminal justice system than men. These studies found that the preferential treatment of women may be positive or negative and is most often infl uenced by the women’s perceived threat to the community. The processing of women through the criminal justice system also seems to dif- fer for women when compared to their male counterparts. While the prosecution rates for men and women who committed violent felonies differed slightly, their rates of conviction were similar, with major differences appearing in sentencing (Spohn & Spears, 1997). Judges and sometimes juries tend to view violent women offenders differently and consider extra-legal factors when determining the appropriate punishment (Morgan, 2012). If this is true, then it may explain the disproportionate num- ber of women sentenced to death and executed in relation to their male counterparts. Female violence is seen as a greater violation (gender bias) than male violence.
Gillespie (1986), in his study of women offenders, found that women received differential treatment in capital cases. Sentencing women to death is not a new phenomenon, but the number of women sentenced to death has never been near or equal to the number of men sentenced to death since the keeping of records. In a 1987 study of capital cases in Florida, Foley found that while sex (gender) did not infl uence the trial outcome, it did infl uence the conviction offense. This study also revealed that women were treated more leniently and were less likely than men to be convicted of fi rst-degree murder, thereby removing the possibility of being sentenced to death (Foley, 1987). Steffensmeier
30 Age, Class, and Sex Disparities