Gender and Crime

An Investigation of Women Probationers’ Paths to Incarceration

Emily J. Salisbury
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Key Findings

  • Child abuse created indirect pathways to continued criminal offending through its psychological and behavioral effects.
  • Symptoms of ongoing depression and anxiety as well as engagement in substance abuse directly led to women’s imprisonment.
  • Women who experienced painful, unsupportive, and unsatisfying intimate relationships, in which they had little personal voice or power, were at indirect risk for engaging in continued offending behavior.
  • Employment and financial problems along with lower educational achievements directly contributed to women’s incarcerations.

Description

In the article, “Gendered Pathways: A Quantitative Investigation of Women Probationers’ Paths to Incarceration,” Salisbury and her co-author investigated three pathways that lead to women’s recidivism to better understand why women initially engage in crime and what factors contribute to their sustained offending behavior.  The three pathways explored are the: childhood victimization model(including measures of victimization as a child, mental illness history, substance abuse history, and current depression/anxiety), relational model (including measures of intimate relationship dysfunction, reductions in self-efficacy, and current mental illness and substance abuse) and social and human capital model (which investigated how women’s intimate social relationships produced human capital such as educational achievement and fewer employment/financial needs). The study utilized interview and survey data from a cohort of 313 women from correctional institutions throughout the state of Missouri between 2004-2005.  The authors found that the childhood victimization model revealed that child abuse, while not directly affecting women’s recidivism, created indirect pathways to continued offending through its psychological and behavioral effects. Symptoms of ongoing depression and anxiety as well as engagement in substance abuse directly led to women’s imprisonment. The relational model demonstrated that women who experienced painful, unsupportive, and unsatisfying intimate relationships in which they had little personal voice or power were at indirect risk for engaging in continued offending behavior. Such dysfunctional relationships promoted women offenders’ recidivism through increased risk of victimization as an adult, reduced self-efficacy, depressive and anxious affect, and addictive behavior. Findings from the social and human capital path model revealed meaningful linkages in women’s offending behavior. Employment and financial problems along with lower educational achievements directly contributed to women’s incarcerations. With regards to informing criminal justice procedures, the authors believe that understanding areas where women offenders struggle could facilitate the design of both humane correctional environments and interventions to reduce risk.

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