Gender Differences in Deterrence: A Survey of Male and Female Inmates

Peter B. Wood, Mississippi State University
Terri L. Earnest, Mississippi State University

While the literature on deterrence is well developed, cirtually no work addresses gender differences in deterrence dyanamics. Drawing on a survey of approximately 400 male and 400 female inmates currently serving time in a large state prison, we examine gender differences in perceived costs and benefits associated with committing crimes. Results indicate that women emphasize different costs associated with incarceration than men do. Specifically, women are more likely to identify costs associated with the loss of family, kin, and community support systems, as well as separation from children and family members for whom they may have been primary care-givers. Men are less likely to identify these "costs" as very important reasons for desisiting from crime. Women seem to view incarceration as more punitive than men, and this is partly due to the geographic separation from their home communities, as well as the possible loss of custody of children and reduction in family and home community contacts. As a consequence, women are more willing to serve community-based sanctions than are men, and are willing to serve longer durations of these sanctions. Findings have implications for deterrence and rational choice theories and correctional policy.

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Updated 05/20/2006