Medicalization of Female Deviance? Gender, Crime and Pychiatric Referrals for Felony Defendants

Melissa Thompson, University of Minnesota

Female deviance tends to elicit a different response than the equivalent behavior in men. This research is focused on exploring the nature of this response and the process of court psychiatric referrals for criminal defendants. Relative to crime committed by men, female crime is still rare. One hypothesized consequence of this rarity is a tendency for such female crimes to be perceived as abnormal in a psychological or biological sense and deviant behavior on the part of women is thus interpreted within a pathological framework. From this perspective, legal and psychiatric professionals view women's criminal behavior as so radically opposed to typical female behavior that it must be considered irrational or insane. In this project, I test whether sex-specific expectations of "normal" behavior govern perceptions of the appropriateness or rationality of criminal actions. In working toward this goal, I gathered demographc, familial, psychiatric, and legal data on felony defendants referred for a psychiatric evaluation in Hennepin County (Minneapolis), Minnesota. These cases are compared to a control group of felony defendants who were not referred for a psychiatric evaluation. Using logistic regression, I model predictors of psychiatric evaluations and predictors of various case outcomes. From these models, I explore the extent to which different treatment of female offenders is due to gender role expectations.

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Updated 05/20/2006