Javdani, S., N. Sadeh, and E. Verona. (2011). Gendered social forces: A review of the impact of institutionalized factors on women and girls’ criminal justice trajectories. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 17(2):161–211.
By Lori Whitten, Staff Writer, RTI International, Rockville, MD
Gender is an individual characteristic that influences one’s behavior and the reactions of others. But it is also part of the social framework, with norms and power dynamics. These aspects influence how larger social institutions—including the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems—respond to and have an impact on an individual’s behavior. Scholars at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have adopted this social framework view, called the structuralist approach, to examine an issue that has drawn much attention: the increasing arrest rates for girls and women during a period in which rates have been stable or decreasing for males.
Although others have examined the individual characteristics that may be linked with increasing female antisocial behavior and crime, a team led by Shabnam Javdani, Ph.D. studied the policies and practices that affect arrest and sentencing decisions for girls and women. They found that patterns of increasing female arrest rates are not corroborated by evidence that women and girls are actually committing antisocial behaviors, particularly violent crimes, at increasing rates. This discrepancy suggests that institutional and social policies, in part, are influencing the increasing arrest rates among girls and women, which may affect individual risk factors and pathways to criminal behavior.
To examine the contribution of institutional responses to increasing female arrest rates, Dr. Javdani, her faculty advisor Edelyn Verona, Ph.D., and Naomi Sadeh, Ph.D., conducted a systematic literature review of empirical evidence from the fields of psychology, criminology, and sociology. They searched databases used in these fields for all abstracts of articles related to the impact of institutional responses on women’s and girls’ criminal and juvenile justice experiences. From these abstracts, the researchers selected all articles that provided empirical data on this subject, which resulted in a total of 59 scholarly papers. Within this set of papers, Javdani and colleagues analyzed four types of justice system responses to females, and found that gender influenced:
In light of their findings, Javdani and colleagues recommend policy and practice changes. For example, they recommend a legislative mandate for treatment alternatives to incarceration—particularly interventions that address substance use and trauma—for girls and women who commit nonviolent or less severe crimes. Such treatments are available but not widely implemented. The authors also suggest integrating drug and domestic violence courts into the justice system to a much greater extent. Some states have already implemented such courts—and the specialized training they require—to address the problems underlying crime rather than continually moving individuals into and out of incarceration. Although more research is needed to test the effectiveness of such courts, the authors argue that alternatives to incarceration for drug abuse and domestic violence would likely improve the outcomes for women and men.
For more information contact Dr. Shabnam Javdani at the Department of Applied Psychology, New York University, New York, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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