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Book Review | Across the Spectrum of Women and Crime: Theories, Offending, and the Criminal Justice System

Published onApr 01, 2018
Book Review | Across the Spectrum of Women and Crime: Theories, Offending, and the Criminal Justice System

Susan F. Sharp, Susan Marcus-Mendoza, Kathleen A. Cameron, and Elycia S. Daniel-Roberson (eds.). Across the Spectrum of Women and Crime: Theories, Offending, and the Criminal Justice System. Carolina Academy Press, 2016; 312 pp.; ISBN: 9781594600319.


In Across the Spectrum of Women and Crime: Theories, Offending, and the Criminal Justice System, edited by Susan F. Sharp (The University of Oklahoma), Susan Marcus-Mendoza (The University of Oklahoma), Kathleen A. Cameron (Pittsburg State University), and Elycia S. Daniel-Roberson (Texas Southern University), interdisciplinary perspectives that examine multiple dimensions of women’s offending grounded in feminist theory are presented across three sections of the book. This edited volume first focuses on theoretical perspectives of women and crime including addressing intersectional social locations related to gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. The second section examines a variety of female offenders including under-studied women such as drug traffickers and terrorists. The third and final section focuses on systemic and societal responses to offenders, including wrongful convictions, women’s experiences of incarceration, as well as recidivism and reintegration into society.

In the first section, Theorizing about Crime and Women, the authors of each chapter examines women as offenders theoretically but also focuses on the intersections of victimization, systemic issues, and the effect of multiple marginalizations. Van Gundy-Yoder applies Broidy and Agnew’s gender-specific approach to General Strain Theory in Chapter 1 to examine the cases of two female offenders, Andrea Yates and Lisa Montgomery to explain their crimes by identifying strains and behavioral impact. Chapter 2, written by Smith and Klepfer, explores intimate partner victimization and women as offenders. The focus on failures of the system highlights the barriers faced by women who offend by utilizing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In Chapter 3, Sharp’s case study of Wanda Jean Allen, the first African American woman executed in the United States since the 1950’s, and the first woman executed in the state of Oklahoma, sheds light on how multiple intersecting identities, including gender, race, education level, mental health, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation can result in excessive punishments for women offenders. In the last chapter in this section, Durfee examines arrests teens for dating violence, including the specific intersections of gender and race with a focus on mandatory and pro-arrest laws using NIBRS data as African American girls are more likely to be victimized and arrested for dating violence.

Moving away from theoretical approaches, the next section centers around a variety of female offenses including interesting and understudied topics such as filicide, women in the legal sex work industry such dancers, strippers and escorts, women involved with drugs as sellers, traders and dealers, and finally, female terrorists, specifically suicide bombers. In Chapter 5, Dragon, Oberman and Meyer use a mixed methods approach to examine women's relationships with partners in relation to domestic violence among women who kill their children and subsequently, how gendered expectations of motherhood influences their punishment. In Chapter 6, Caputo examines drug use among legal sex workers by connecting childhood poverty and abuse to women’s experiences within various types of legal and illegal sex work. Using a gendered pathways framework, in Chapter 7, Jenkot seeks to understand women’s motivations to trade and sell illegal drugs through in-depth interviews. In the final chapter of this section (8), Markovic explores the understudied topic of personal and organizational motivation of female suicide bombers in Nigeria.

The third section of the book shifts to examine how the criminal justice system responds to women including through convictions, imprisonment, access to treatment and concludes with societal reintegration. In Chapter 9 on wrongful convictions, Fox examines five cases in the US and Japan that explores the embedded misogyny of the system against women who are unjustly convicted of murder. In Chapter 10, on women’s experiences of imprisonment, Lawson explores the impact of pre-prison trauma including women’s interactions with coercive men, while also giving voice to incarcerated women as she demonstrates resistance in prison settings. In Chapter 11, McGee, Williams, Strickland, Dobson-Brown and Foreman discuss racial inequalities related to substance abuse and medical treatment of imprisoned mothers. Compounded by the unequal treatment available, the medical neglect of women drug offenders who are in dire need of substance abuse, mental and physical health treatment are met with limited programs and resources. In Chapter 12, Kerrison and Bachman provide an optimistic look at the prosocial lives women offenders who have desisted from crime and drugs as their renewed identity as grandparent contributes to desistance. Finally, in Chapter 13, Sharp and Ortiz provides a qualitative analysis of women prisoners’ recidivism and reintegration. The chapter authors examine the experiences of women who recidivate as a result of lacking access to resources, support, and the belief that they would not be able to thrive in society post-prison, as well as those who achieve successful societal reintegration.

The book concludes with a brief section entitled ‘Total System Failure’ by Marcus-Mendoza where the author highlights how women and girls are failed on various societal and institutional levels, by family, social services, schools, religious organizations, medical/mental health providers, and in halfway houses, juvenile detention centers, prisons, jails, parole and probation however, she points out that this anthology is not just about how the system fails women through lack of intervention, access, distrust, and victim dismissal, but also about the complexity of marginalization, how racial/ethnic minority women and girls are more likely to be turned from victim to offender and not receive much-needed assistance, and how blame and punishment shapes women’s experiences. Ultimately, the inconsistencies at the community, state, national and organizational level direly needs transformation and Marcus-Mendoza calls for that through creating structures of support that centers the voices of women impacted by social and systemic inadequacies.

Overall, Across the Spectrum of Women and Crime provides an insightful look into women and the criminal justice system beyond an introductory reference. It includes specific pieces that enriches the overall understanding of gender from various perspectives and intersections, including incorporating race and socioeconomic status into analyses, while also utilizing a plethora of methods to address the issues, including case studies, qualitative interviews, and quantitative analyses of state and national data sets. Furthermore, it can be used in a variety of courses at the advanced undergraduate or graduate level as it incorporates exhaustive references at the end of each chapter. Additionally, a brief section with chapter-specific discussion questions (beginning on page 281) also makes the book an excellent classroom reader for gender and crime, criminological theory application, and sociology. It’s contribution to criminology, criminal justice, sociology, gender and crime is especially critical in terms of under-researched topics including expanding knowledge of legal sex workers, as well as women involved in the drug trade and terrorism. This text begins to fill gaps surrounding not just the need of creating supportive structures for women offenders in the US but also how to do so from the perspectives of those most impacted. It would have been interesting to include a transnational criminological perspective to have more insight regarding international initiatives and solutions that can also contribute to a better understanding of how interventions, access, trust and support are working to support women globally, or even a more concrete conclusive acknowledgment of how these types of programs are implemented in the US however, this may also be best left to evaluation. Ultimately, this edited volume is a critical contribution to understanding women and crime, and specifically broadening our understanding of the inadequacies in both the criminal justice system, as well as societal responses to women’s experiences as offenders at various marginalized intersections.

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