Bloometal - 31 Women Offenders and the Gendered Effects of...

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31 Women Offenders and the Gendered Effects of Public Policy 1 Barbara Bloom Sonoma State University Barbara Owen California State University, Fresno Stephanie Covington Center for Gender and Justice Abstract At 17%, women represent a signi±cant proportion of all offenders under criminal justice supervision in the US. Drawing on the ±ndings from their report, “Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders,” the authors maintain that public policy has ignored the context of women’s lives and that women offenders have disproportionately suffered from the impact of ill-informed public policy. This discussion of the implications of gender within the criminal justice system is based on a simple assumption: responding to the differences between women and men in criminal behav- ior and to their antecedents is critical to gender-responsive policy. Building on the pathway theoretical perspective, we ±nd that in addition to the gendered impact of the war on drugs, policy changes in welfare reform, housing, and other social policy arenas combine to create a disparate impact on drug abusing women and women of color. Key policy areas affecting the lives of women offenders and their children include welfare bene±ts, drug treatment, housing, education, employment, and reuni±cation with chil- dren. We conclude that addressing the realities of women’s lives through gender-responsive policy and programs is fundamental to improved outcomes at all criminal justice phases. A blueprint for gender- responsive policy development is described through six guiding principles and their policy implications. W omen represent a signifcant proportion oF all oFFenders under criminal justice supervision in the US. Numbering over one million in 2001, Female oFFenders make up 17% oF all oFFenders under some Form oF correctional sanction. Although their numbers have grown, we maintain that public policy has ignored the context oF women’s lives and that women oFFenders have disproportionately suFFered From the impact oF ill-inFormed public policy. These policies—both within the criminal justice system and other social arenas—ignore the realities oF gender. One such detri- mental policy—the so-called war on drugs—has had a critical impact on the lives oF women in the criminal justice system. This policy has punished women dispro- portionately to the harm they cause society. As the US increased the criminal penal- ties through mandatory sentencing and longer sentence lengths, huge increases in the imprisonment oF women have been a gendered consequence oF these policies. Women are most likely to be incarcerated For a drug-related crime. Nationwide, about 35% oF the imprisoned women were serving a sentence For a drug related crime, with the remainder distributed somewhat equally among property and violent crime (Bureau oF Justice Statistics [BJS], 1999b). This distribution diFFers by
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Bloometal - 31 Women Offenders and the Gendered Effects of...

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