Critically discuss
how effective the current criminal justice system is in addressing the gender.


The criminal justice system sanctions those who disobey the law by using
criminal penalties and rehabilitation programme in order to uphold social
control, migrate crime and deter criminals from involving themselves with
criminal activity. The criminal justice system refers to the police, probation
service and secure estate.

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Statistics show that women make up only 5% of the total prison
population because they tend to engage with less serious criminal activity. The
number of women in prisons today has doubled in figures since 1993, resulting
in approximately 2,300 more women prisoners today than there was fifteen years
ago. However, a large percentage of these women (84%) are in prison for
committing non-violent crimes, whilst theft accounted for almost half (48%). As
theft is treated as a minor offence, it is most likely that the majority of
women entering prison serve a very short sentence. Sadly, 53% of women in
prison today reported that they have a mental health problem, compared to 27%
of men, suggesting that women are more vulnerable when it comes to the criminal
justice system.  This assignment attempts
to critically discuss how effective the current criminal justice system is in
addressing gender (Barton, Johns, 2013) (Prison Reform Trust, 2017).


Throughout the 1900th century there was Myths, Muddles and
Misconception about girls’ delinquent behaviour, which main focus was on their
independence and sexuality. Shockingly, until the 1960’s, girls who found
themselves caught up in the juvenile system were there for gender-inappropriate
behaviour relating to sex, absconding and willfulness; behaviors that undermine
stereotypes of submissiveness, feminine passivity, and chastity. Society
accepted that the reason for troublesome and delinquent behaviour of girls
closely tied to ideas about ‘respectable’ femininity, suggesting that behaviors
that undermine stereotypes of femininity was viewed as a criminal offence
(Sharpe, 2012) (Gelsthorpe, Worrall, 2009). For instance, girls were punished
for violating ‘status offences’ such as having sex underage, and were only
granted leniency when they had managed to prove to the criminal justice system
of their ability to be a ‘good mother’ (Corsianos, 2012).


During the 17th and 18th century, gaols did not
differentiate between children, men and women, so that all genders and age
groups shared the same confinement when accused or convicted of a crime. The
Victorians believed that prisons should be an unpleasant, crowded environment
where all prisoners are made to work long hours while keeping silent. Hard
labor involved boring tasks such as walking a treadwheel or separating strands
of rope in order for the prisoners live up to their wrong-doings, however the
most common punishment included transportation, where the prisoner was sent to
Australia or America; Or execution. The Victorians struggled to understand how
locking up young children with adults would allow the child to live honest
lives while held in such small confinements with adults who have committed much
serious crimes. As a result of children’s rights, the mid 18th
century saw changes to the criminal justice system which meant that men, women
and children no longer shared the same confinement when accused or convicted of
a crime. The children’s act that took place in 1908 (Children’s Act, 1908) meant
that an individual under the age of sixteen were no longer allowed to be sent
to prison, apart from in exceptional circumstances, and were to be sent to
pre-existing Industrial and Reformatory schools. This change enabled children
to have a routine, school lessons and strict discipline. Individuals above the
age of sixteen and under the age of twenty-three could be sent to Borstals, a
custodial institution for young men and women. Borstals provided training with
needle work, cooking, and the development of self-control in order to prepare
the children for their release. However, this adjustment to the criminal
justice system emphasized irregularities in the moral behaviour of girls (Fox,


“Boys were seen as aggressive, adventurous,
active, gang-orientated creatures seeking outlets for their energy and their
exhibitionist tendencies through criminal activity. Girls were thought of as
domesticated, solitary, more mature and possibly cleverer than boys, who
express their deviance via sexual misconduct or disturbed behaviour which does
not break the law.” (Gelsthorpe ,
Worrall, 2009; Priestley et al

Society has stereotyped women as a group who are more venerable and
needing care because of their roles of mothers and housewives, which
rationalized the idea that if you committed a crime and were female, you were
more wicked and evil as gender norms are entirely being disobeyed which is seen
as an expression of weakness. Whereas boys, who are stereotyped as independent,
superior, breadwinners commit crimes for entertainment purposes, therefore the
criminal justice system considers male convictions as a sign of character,
resulting in different legal responses because of the way boys and girls are
perceived (Shelden, 2012).

Until the Criminal Justice Act 1967 (Criminal Justice Act, 1967) was introduced,
it was law for only female probation officers to supervise girls to not only
protect them from abuse, but because it was believed that their behavior would
be better understood by a woman. A high proportion of girls who had committed
minor offences such as status offenses, with also no criminal history were most
likely faced with super-vision orders (Gelsthorpe
, Worrall, 2009).


Reforms of the criminal justice system during the 1930’s-1960’s had an
emphasis on treatment rather than punishment. Women who acted violently or
aggressively were not dealt with by the Criminal Justice System, but were
diagnosed as ‘mentally ill’ as violent crime is a predominantly male phenomenon, and therefore dealt with by the Mental
Health System. This meant that accounts of women offences shown on Official
Crime Statistics were inaccurate, and possibly explaining the emphasized irregularity
of moral behaviour in girls (Helfgott, 2008). This reform approach may explain
the abolishment of Borstals for girls because of the diagnosis of mental health
illness, rather than being sent to a criminal justice institution.  However, the strategy of treatment rather than
punishment did not succeed as the sexualisation of girls continued, which lead
delinquent girls seen as ‘beyond control’ and in need of care and protection
(Bean, 2003).

Due to an
evaluation of Intermediate Treatment in the 1980’s (Smith, 2007), a community
based programme designed to divert young offenders from custody was introduced,
however it was identified that a high proportion of girls involved were there
on a voluntary basis, and gender differences were observed in the content of the
programme too which lead to concerns about the disparities in sentencing and
discrimination in boys and girls (Gelsthorpe
, Worrall, 2009).

Criminal Justice Act 1982 addressed the concerns about disparities in
sentencing and discrimination in boys and girls, which lead to the
revitalization of Detention Centre’s for boys. Detention Centre’s introduced ‘short,
sharp shock’ type of regime which involved manual labor, military drill and
early wake up calls with only thirty minutes of socializing with other
prisoners permitted per day over a three-month period in attempt to deter the criminal
from recommitting crime once released (The Thatcher Crisis Years, 2013).

The recent picture still shows a statistical difference of male and female
offenders, resulting in a considerable amount more crimes committed by males
than females. The factors of delinquency differentiate between boys and girls,
however the mechanisms behind these differences are yet to be discovered. However,
it has been discovered that girls delinquent behaviour are usually less chronic
and serious than boys, explaining that minor offenses are the main element of girl’s
delinquency. It has been identified that although girls commit less serious
crimes than boys, the minor crimes are often linked to problems that the
individual is experiencing (Smith, 2007).

The total prison population today is only made up of 5% of women, who
commit minor crimes such as theft which makes up for 48% of women offences. Throughout
history the total prison population has had a significantly lower percentage of
women, which has resulted in a system largely designed by men for men. This means
that women are marginalized by the criminal justice system which makes it
difficult for their needs to be recognized and met. The Ministry of
Justice gathered information from women community projects data which shockingly
revealed that half of the women have a number of vulnerabilities; 48% have drug
or alcohol problems, 8% of women are involved in prostitution, 40% have
experienced domestic violence, sexual abuse or rape, and 8% of women are
involved in prostitution, suggesting that these women can also be described as
victims, as well as offenders (Prison Reform Trust, 2017). In prisons today,
the criminal justice system believes it is necessary to regularly strip search
women which consists of a humiliating process that strongly degrades an
individual and their dignity as it is a very strong invasion of privacy. This
particular mandatory routine is a dreadful introduction to the life of imprisonment
and a very uninvited reminder to those women who have had a history of sexual
abuse and previous victimization, evidencing an patriarchal criminal justice
system. Rather than bringing back these horrific memories of sexual abuse that
beg to be forgotten although struggle to forget due to the reinforcement of
strip searching, a new, more caring, intervention should be introduced. Women
offenders who carry these vulnerabilities should receive help through more sensitive
interventions surrounded by a more caring environment in order for them to
rebuild their lives (Akers, 1999).

With these vulnerabilities
in mind, a community sentence meets the needs of these women offenders so that
they can take control of their lives by seeking treatment for mental health and
drug addiction, or protection from domestic abuse…; while paying back the community
for their wrong doings (Lurgigio, 1996).

The Corston
Report (Baroness, 2007) focused on women and the particular vulnerabilities in
the criminal justice system and made 43 recommendations with the aim of
improving the criminal justice system in terms of gender. “The thrust of the report was that women’s
vulnerabilities should be identified and worked with to reduce their
offending behaviour, and that ‘community solutions for non-violent women
offenders should be the norm” (Annison & Brayford, 2015: 1; Corston, 2007:
9), which accounts for 84% of women prisoners today (Prison Reform Trust,

Women offenders
have multiple vulnerabilities such as personal circumstances; mental illness,
low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance misuse; secondly, domestic
circumstances such as domestic violence, child-care issues, being a
single-parent; and third, socio-economic factors such as poverty, isolation and
unemployment. Research conducted from The Corston Report 2007 show that women
who experience multiple vulnerabilities of at least three types increases the likelihood
of ending up in prison (Baroness, 2007).

The Corston
Report suggests that in order for the women’s population to decrease in
reference to the criminal justice system, women must develop emotional literacy
and life skills. A radical change is needed to not only those who offend, but
also women who are at risk of offending. The Corston Report discusses a ‘women-centred
approach’ as a new strategy to meet the needs of vulnerable women, suggesting
that an increased number of women’s community centres to support women
offenders, or women who are at risk of offending, in order to direct women away
from involving themselves with criminal activity (Baroness, 2007).

It is
important that the equality of both men and women offenders is promoted in the
criminal justice system, which is supported under the Equality act. The new
gender equality duty influenced by The Corston report means that both men and
women offenders should be treated with equivalent respect, however this
approach does not mean that everyone caught up in the criminal justice system
should be treated the same due to the range of minor and serious criminal
offences that are committed by each individual (Baroness, 2007).

To conclude,
historically, women who commit crime are seen as unfeminine and cause for moral
panic. The stereotypes that have been built through a socialization process
have effected women in the criminal justice system, and if these expectations
of ‘true femininity’ are not met, innocent women are penalized for minor
offences, and are stigmatized as more wicked and evil as it was believed that they
are committing a crime against what is expected of them as a woman (Sharpe,
2012). This pattern of minor offences committed by a woman overlaps with
contemporary times. Women’s reasoning for offending is seen distinctly different
to that of men’s. Women today, and throughout history tend to commit less
serious crimes than men, however have a number of vulnerabilities that they
battle with throughout their prison sentence, or even vulnerabilities that have
lead them to imprisonment (Gelsthorpe, Worrall, 2009).

The Corston
Report 2007 has identified a number of problems in the criminal justice system,
and has made 43 recommendations in order to improve the criminal justice system
in terms of gender. Individuals should be treated differently depending on the
crime they have committed, and the vulnerabilities they carry (Baroness, 2007).
The criminal justice system is patriarchal because of the majority of prisoners
being men, resulting in women being marginalized and their personal needs failing
to be seen to. To encourage equality in the criminal justice system does not
exactly mean treating all prisoners the same, but adapting treatment and
programme interventions depending on the individual and their circumstances
(Akers, 1999).

criminal justice system is ineffective in addressing gender as women’s needs
fail to be met. 84% of female prisoners today have commit minor crimes, in
which half carry a number of vulnerabilities. The criminal justice system is patriarchal
and should consider new interventions and recommendations in order to meet the
needs of venerable women through a treatment programme, with the hope of
reducing the rate of women offenders who have a mental illness, who self-harm,
and commit suicide (Akers, 1999).  

majority of women offend because of the vulnerabilities they have battled with,
therefore the criminal justice system is not effective in addressing gender as
the solution to their problems are available outside of the prison walls, where
they can have access to treatment and be provided with support. Prison for a
high proportion of women offenders disables the access of protection from
domestic violence, secure housing, treatment for mental health problems and
drug addictions, debt management and employment. Therefore, community sentences
strongly meet the needs for women as it enables them to take control of their
own lives, care for their children while paying the community back for their
wrong doings (Prison Reform Trust, 2007).