When we think of women and the criminal justice system, we commonly view women as the victims of crime as opposed to the perpetrators. These thoughts are not far from the truth, as women do represent a minority in the number of offenders in all areas of crime.
Women make up only one fifth (22%) of the number of individuals who are accused of committing a criminal code violation in Canada.
Interestingly, the number of females accused of offences and sent to prison are on the rise. The rate of women charged with an offence has gone up by 15% since 1979, while the number of violent offences committed by women have tripled from 1979 to 1997. In contrast, the Canadian crime rate is steadily decreasing, where the overall rate is lower than it has been since 1969.
Many criminologists and theorists have speculated reasons as to why the female crime rate is slowly on the rise, while our overall crime rates are steadily dropping. Some speculate that a shift in police enforcement is an associated factor, as officers are more willing to arrest and charge women; while other speculate that the increased number of women out of the home and in working professions have resulted in the increase.
Types of Offences
Similar to their male counterparts, adult women are more likely to commit property offences than any other type of offence. Women account for approximately 27% of the total property offences committed in 2009. These offences include Arson, Break and Enter, Motor Vehicle Theft, Theft Over, Theft Under, Possession of Stolen Goods, Fraud, and Mischief.
In respects to property offences, women are most often accused of Theft Under $5000, making up 36% of the total number of Theft Under charges. Women are also most commonly accused of Assault Level 1 and administration of justice violations, such as Failure to Appear in court, or Breach of probation.
In comparison, violent offences make up a small portion of criminal code violations in general, and women make up an even smaller number of these crimes.
Assault level one, on the other hand, is more likely to be perpetrated by a woman than any other type of violent crime, where in 2009, women made up 25% of those convicted of Assault level one. Assault level one is the least severe of all the assaults.
In these cases, women are more likely to commit a violent offence against their spouse or intimate partner. In 2009, 46% of women accused of a violent offence had committed the offence against a spouse or intimate partner, while only 14% were against strangers. Suggesting that of the few women who will commit violent offences, it is most commonly against a spouse or someone they are very close with rather than against a stranger.
Similar to their male counterparts, female youth are three times more likely to commit crimes than adult women. The rates of female youth who have committed offences exceeds the rate of adult women across all offence categories, with the exception of Homicide or other violent offences causing death, Fraud, Traffic Violations, and Prostitution.
Nonetheless, as the age of the offender increases the amount of criminal activity substantially decreases.
However, female youth still only accounted for only one quarter or 28% of youth offences in 2009, meaning that female youth still commit fewer crimes than male youth.
Custody and corrections
It can be expected that since women account for a lower number of individuals who commit crimes, there will be a lower number of women involved in court cases and incarceration.
Interestingly, women were less likely to receive a guilty conviction and are less likely to be sentenced to custody than their men. In 2009, 59% of all the cases involving women led to a guilty conviction, while 68% of cases involving men ended in the same result. Factors that account for these differences may vary, as women are more likely to be a one-time offender and are more likely to plead guilty to one charge initially.
Although women make up a lower percentage of the penal population – with 11% of the provincial population being women, and 6% of the federal population – the demographics of these women are similar to the male penal populous.
Women are general younger, single, less likely to have a high school education, and unemployed. This suggests that women not only have minimal opportunities prior to incarceration, but will have fewer opportunities that lead to rehabilitation upon release. Factors such as education, employment history, marital status, and a clean record are all features that provide better opportunities to a crime free lifestyle. Therefore, upon release the majority of incarcerated women will have less opportunities to desist from re-offending.