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- 0:00 Emily Salisbury (ES): This brief presentation summarizes an article I recently co-authored that explored gendered factors associated with women’s probation revocation and subsequent incarceration. For those of you who might be interested in reading the full article the citation is included at the bottom of this slide.
Citatio: Adapted from Salisbury, EJ and Van Voorhis, P (2009). Gendered Pathways: A Quantitative Investigation of Women Probationers’ Paths to Incarceration. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36, 531-566.
0:19 ES: The gender responsive pathways perspective holds that women and men have different routes to criminal behavior by virtue of the gendered lives we lead. It embraces the fact that males and females are socialized to behave in very different ways. It recognizes the gender gap in crime, or the fact that females are much less likely to be involved in criminal activity, and that females are economically and socially marginalized. The gender-responsive pathways approach also argues that each of these facts foster distinct psychosocial factors that contribute to girls’ and women’s offending. The perspective is informed by a number of research areas outside of criminology from general, non-offending populations of women. These areas include the psychology of women, as well as addiction, trauma and relational theories. The gender-responsive approach is gaining attention because criminal justice agencies are simply up in arms about what they need to be doing differently to adequately manage and supervise their female correctional population, which have increased exponentially in the last 30 years.
1:29 ES: With the work of feminist scholars such as Mita Chesney Lynn, Kathleen Daly, Regina Arnold, Barbara Owen and many others, new ideas about female offending were established. The qualitative life history interviews that these scholars conducted with girls and women suggested that their lives leading up to criminal justice involvement were extremely complex and disadvantaged, with unique daily struggles that were rarely identified with male offenders, such as struggles with child abuse, depression, self-medicating behavior, self-hatred, parenting responsibilities, domestic violence and unhealthy intimate relationships. It’s argued that these problems create unique pathways to crime for women.
2:15 ES: While it is certainly the case that male offenders also suffer from many of these problems such as substance abuse, mental illness, child abuse, previous research actually suggests that these problems are much more related to female offending than they are to male offending. And so the argument goes in the Pathways Perspective that these are psychosocial factors that seem to contribute a lot greater to women’s offending than they do to male or men’s offending.
2:46 ES: Although the rich life-history interviews have consistently demonstrated gender-defending pathways, there has been little quantitative work that’s explicitly tested such pathways, and that was really the aim of this study. Specifically, this research tested three gendered path models that have often been described by women offenders when asked what sort of factors led them to offending and them being in the system.
3:17 ES: The data for the study came from a larger research project funded by the National Institute of Corrections, which investigated the needs and risks of women offenders to develop and validate a gender responsive risk assessment instrument. The sample includes 313 women offenders, newly admitted to probation in Missouri between January of 2004 through October of 2005. Only felony offenders were eligible for the study. No misdemeanants, no one coming off shock incarceration and no probation violators were allowed to be participants in the study. Seventeen districts were chosen across the state to represent urban and rural areas. Then each district was assigned a quota of participants proportionate to the district’s population size. So, every female felony offender admitted on probation in the State of Missouri within these 17 districts was asked to participate in the study, which resulted in an 80% participation rate.
4:22 ES: Two instruments were implemented for this study during the intake process. The first was an interview with each woman probationer that asked questions about various problems she may have been facing leading up to her current offense. Things such as substance abuse, mental health, employment and poverty, education, family support and adult and child victimization. Each woman also completed a second instrument that was a confidential, paper-and-pencil survey that asked detailed questions about self-efficacy, dysfunctional intimate relationships and exposure to various types of adult and child abuse. This was a secondary measure of adult and child abuse and included more behaviorally specific questions about different types of adult and child abuse.
05:13 ES: The characteristics of the 313 women offender participants in the study show an average age of 32 years. A little over two-thirds of the women were white with the remaining women being mostly African-American. Nearly two-thirds of the women had children younger than 18 years of age, but only 24% were married.
05:38 ES: 64% of the women achieved a high-school education, and 66% were employed. Employment, however, was broadly measured, encompassing full and part-time employment, full-time child care, full-time school or disability. In terms of criminal histories, this sample was a relatively low- to low-moderate risk group of women. Over 80% of the women had never been convicted of any felony other than the current one and nearly all women had never been incarcerated before. Further, the majority of these women were on probation for drug and property offenses such as drug-use, forgery and theft. Not surprisingly, only 7% of the women’s current offenses involved violence or harm.
6:21 ES: Here are the results of the first pathway tested. This path model reflects a child abuse pathway to criminal behavior that is commonly described by female offenders when they’re asked about how they begin offending and what got them wrapped up in the system. Unfortunately many women report extensive abuse histories as children that often lead to mental health problems and substance abuse as young women, which frequently continues into adulthood. These behaviors will often manifest into more active or dynamic forms of depression, anxiety and substance abuse, which leads to their admission to prison. More specifically, these data reflect women probationers’ paths to being admitted to prison and how these social-psychological variables directly or indirectly contributed to their probation termination and subsequent prison admission. It’s important to note that of the 313 women originally in the study, 52 of these women, or 17% of the sample, were revoked from probation after two years and were subsequently admitted to jail or prison settings. When looking at the path model, it’s important to understand that each possible link between each variable was tested to see if there was a significant or a meaningful relationship between them. If an arrow doesn’t appear between the variables, then the relationship between them was not meaningful beyond statistical chance. The numbers reflected here mean that there was a significant relationship. The numbers also give you an indication of the strength of each relationship where larger numbers reflect stronger relationships. For instance, the strongest relationship in this path model is between a historical measure of mental illness and substance abuse at point three seven. So what’s the big picture here? Well, there’s a few things to take away from this path model. First, although child abuse did not directly contribute to the women’s prison admissions, it indirectly influenced psychological effects that established five distinct pathways to recidivism. Women’s childhood traumas were related to major mental health problems, especially depression and anxiety, as well as addictive behaviors. It appears that child abuse cannot be ignored in facilitating women’s criminal behavior based on this path model. Also, this pathway suggests that for these women probationers, it wouldn’t be enough for our community corrections professionals to facilitate treatment interventions solely for addiction and mental health issues. This is because childhood trauma is at the root of these problems. Essentially, there is an intersection of needs surrounding abuse, mental health and addiction that would best be treated holistically rather than separately.
09:11 ES: This path model also supports a gendered pathway that begins with unhealthy intimate relationships. This is defined as women who have a tendency to lose personal power through their intimate partners or women who feel like they’re more likely to get into trouble with the law when they’re in a relationship compared to when they’re not in one. As you can see here, relationship dysfunction is strongly related to reductions in a woman’s self-efficacy as noted by the negative point three five relationship, increased exposure to adult partner victimization, which further fosters mental illness and substance abuse. These paths contribute to a greater likelihood of failing probation or getting admitted to jail or prison.
10:01 ES: Lastly, the final pathway that was supported was a social and human capital model. Although the gender-neutral factors of employment and financial issues were directly related to probation revocation and incarceration, it’s important to note the gendered constructs that contributed to employment and financial problems. These included relationship dysfunction, lack of family support and reduced self-efficacy. This essentially suggests that it may not be enough to try and help women simply get a job. If you don’t address the underlying issues of relationship dysfunction, lack of self-efficacy and lack of support, they’re not going to be successful on probation.
10:47 ES: Taken together, these quantitative path models support much of what feminist criminologists have been finding for decades in their life-history interviews with women offenders. However, to truly identify gendered pathways, it would be best to have prospective longitudinal studies including both males and females. Overall, results from the study were consistent with the notion that gendered constructs contribute to female offending behavior, thus there seems to be value in continuing to research women’s potentially distinct factors that might contribute to their offending.
Dr. Emily Salisbury is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Criminology and Criminal Justice within the Hatfield School of Government. She earned her Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati, and has been at Portland State since 2007.
She was involved with a National Institute of Corrections sponsored project investigating the unique needs and risks of women offenders in both prison and community settings.
To view her full bio, click here.