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Women Offenders’ Punishment and Treatment


The population of women offenders has been on the rise in the past decade and the criminal justice system has expressed fears regarding the trend. Women offenders require different approaches with regard to incarceration and correction because of variations in their offense patterns as well as social, physical, and psychological needs (Price & Sokoloff, 2004).

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The Federal Bureau of Prisons uses a unique classification system for female offenders because they are less likely to embrace crime than male offenders. A research study conducted in 2009 by the Bureau of Statistics revealed that 14% of offenders arrested that year were female (Easton & Piper, 2012). This percentage represented a population of 2.1 million prisoners.

Crimes committed by female offenders include robbery, assault, possession and use of drugs, prostitution, fraud, theft, murder, and violence (Price & Sokoloff, 2004). In correctional facilities, women are given special care and attention because of their varied social, psychological, and physical needs. Treatment programs are aimed at enhancing rehabilitation efforts.


Factors that contribute to the rising rate of women involvement in crime include mental illness, drug use, domestic violence, and poor parental guidance (Price & Sokoloff, 2004). Research has shown that the rate of incarceration is lower among females than males. The number of men arrested in all types of crime is higher than that of women except in prostitution. Prostitution is the most common crime among women.

Types of prostitution include call girls, street walkers, bar girls, brothel prostitutes, escort services, and circuit travelers (Siegel, 2014). According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the percentage of women in all crime categories is less than 20 (Easton & Piper, 2012). In addition, the representation of women in criminal gangs and crime activities is lower than that of men.

The number of females arrested for homicide and aggravated crime is below 15 percent (Price & Sokoloff, 2004). On the other hand, for crimes dealing with property and theft, the percentage of female participants is less than 10 percent. The highest representation rate is observed in minor property crimes that include vandalism, theft, forgery, fraud, and embezzlement (Price & Sokoloff, 2004).

The main types of theft and fraud crimes committed by women include issuance of bouncing checks, forgery, credit fraud, shoplifting, and welfare fraud (Price & Sokoloff, 2004). Data collected from the criminal justice system in the last 10 years show that more women are joining crime compared to men. The upward trend has been observed in certain crime categories such as aggravated assault and violation of drug laws.

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According to a report released by the National Crime Victimization Survey, women are less involved in serious crimes such as murder, drug trafficking, robbery with violence, and human trafficking (Price & Sokoloff, 2004). In addition, the effects of their involvement in serious crimes are less severe compared to the effects caused by their male counterparts. For instance, acts of violence committed by women result in few cases of injuries and complications.

The most common criminal activities pursued by women include prostitution, shoplifting, drug peddling, and forgery. They pursue these activities because they involve lower risks of arrest compared to other crimes. Drug possession and drug use is also a common crime among female offenders who commit crimes that involve little or no use of weapons such as guns.

Therefore, gun wounds, broken bones, concussions, and serious injuries are not common in their crimes. The largest percentage of murder cases are committed by African American women using weapons such as handguns, knives, blunt objects and other types of weapons. Mothers who kill their children or spouses also constitute a sizeable number of women offenders.


Over the years, the criminal justice system has exhibited great leniency toward female offenders. Many women are usually given short prison terms and probation sentences (Easton & Piper, 2012). This is based on the fact that many women offenders commit crimes that are not very severe.

For instance, fraud, prostitution, and shoplifting are not as severe as drug trafficking, treason, and murder. In many cases, thorough assessment of the needs of offenders is conducted in order to enable courts issue fair and appropriate punishments. It is inevitable to punish women who commit crime. However, it is imperative for courts to take into consideration the factors that motivated them to commit crime. For instance, drug addiction, domestic abuse, and mental health problems are common factors that lead women to crime.

This means that they need targeted support in order to help them undergo full rehabilitation and avoid recidivism (Easton & Piper, 2012). Women with small children are usually issued probation sentences that allow them to continue taking care of their families. On the other hand, pregnant women receive lenient sentences in order to allow them to take good care of their pregnancies.

Punishment of women offenders has been criticized by many experts in the criminal justice system because they argue that many female prisoners do not pose any threat to public safety and they should be given alternative punishments such as probation and parole (Easton & Piper, 2012). They argue that prisons are an ineffective and expensive avenue for dealing with female offenders because many of them commit petty crimes.

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Many political analysts advocate for residential alternatives to custody for women who commit crimes that do not pose any threat to the safety of people in their respective communities. Some punishments are considered very lenient. For instance, after taking part in voter fraud in 2012, Priscilla Morales received a probation sentence that was viewed as lenient based on its severity (Siegel, 2014).

The harshest punishments are issued to offenders involved in crimes such as murder, terrorism, and robbery with violence. The justice system perceives offences committed by women as less severe than crimes committed by men. Therefore, they issue more lenient punishments to female offenders. In addition, the system ensures that they receive different treatment in correctional facilities.


Women receive special and individualized treatment in correctional facilities for several reasons. They have special physical needs, they are responsible for taking care of their children, they are more prone to drug abuse and mental illnesses than men, and the criminal justice system is more lenient towards them (Blanchette & Brown, 2006).

Female offenders are subjected to a through treatment program because of the experiences they encounter such as trauma, domestic violence, psychological illnesses, and harassment (Blanchette & Brown, 2006). A successful treatment program should focus on both physical and psychological wellbeing. For instance, it is not sufficient to help offenders eradicate their drug abuse habits. It is also necessary to help them address the cause of their drug abuse habits such as violence and low self-esteem.

One of the most important components of treatment programs for women is psychological wellbeing. Women have very elaborate psychological needs. Therefore, a treatment program should address all their needs. For instance, trauma is one of the factors that push women to commit crime. It is important to offer psychological assistance in order to help offenders deal with past traumatic experiences.

Prison environments are violent, harsh, psychologically damaging, and uninhabitable especially for first time offenders (Blanchette & Brown, 2006). For that reason, many female offenders are subjected to dehumanizing and depersonalizing environments that are perilous to their physical health and psychological wellbeing. Another factor that affects women prisoners is the stigma associated with imprisonment, which results in a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

In addition, remorse, guilt, and shame affect women significantly by making them feel powerless. It is important for prison authorities to consider such factors when designing treatment programs for offenders. Common signs of adjustment to prison environments include trauma and hopelessness. When offenders are incarcerated, they experience varying degrees of trauma and hopelessness especially if the sentences keep them away from their families for long periods (Blanchette & Brown, 2006).

Inmates who experience severe cases of trauma include women who have unstable families, women with young children, and women with past experiences of substance abuse. The trauma intensifies if they experience exploitation and assault from fellow inmates. In particular, inmates who are sexually exploited require special treatment services in the form of medical, psychological, and social rehabilitation.

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A common disorder among female inmates is post traumatic stress disorder that is characterized by irritability, insomnia, detachment, and nightmares (Blanchette & Brown, 2006). It is vital for prison authorities to provide counselors to aid prisoners in dealing with such problems. Experiences of incarceration are traumatizing and should be addressed appropriately.

Women receive special treatment in prisons because of their different characters and psychosocial identities. As a result, their experiences are different and have varied consequences. For instance, incarcerated women are exposed to high risk of developing mental illnesses and relapses due to continued substance use.

Certain attitudes and behaviors exhibited by female offenders are usually developed during childhood especially if they were subjected to traumatic experiences. Such experiences, coupled with the negative effects of imprisonment make women more susceptible to psychological disorders.

In addition, their strong attachment to family and relationships contribute towards negative physical and mental health outcomes. It is very important for prison authorities to facilitate creation of healthy relationships among inmates in order to offer social support that is important for effective rehabilitation.


The population of women offenders in correctional facilities has been on the rise in the past decade. Factors that motivate women to commit crime include mental illness, addictions, domestic violence, and gender discrimination. Examples of crimes committed by women include, robbery, assault, possession and use of illegal drugs, prostitution, and fraud.

Punishment for involvement in criminal activities depends on many factors such as severity of crime, risk posed to community safety, and presence of young children in the life of an offender. In many cases, women receive lenient sentences because the criminal justice system considers their crimes as less severe compared to those committed by their male counterparts.

In correctional facilities, women are accorded special care and attention because of their varied social, psychological, and physical needs. Treatment programs are designed considering the high susceptibility of women to trauma and psychological illnesses.


Blanchette, K., & Brown, S. L. (2006). The Assessment and Treatment of Women Offenders: An Integrative Perspective. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Easton, S., & Piper, C. (2012). Sentencing and Punishment: The Quest for Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Price, B. R., & Sokoloff, N. J. (2004). The Criminal Justice System and Women: Offenders, Prisoners, Victims, and Workers. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Siegel, L.J. (2014). Criminology: The Core. New York: Cengage Learning.

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