Revisiting the Rise of the New Female Offender: Examining the Relationship Between Gender, Drugs, and Violent Crime

Phyllis Coontz, University of Pittsburgh
Eric Sevigny, University of Pittsburgh

ABSTRACT
For several decades there has been an on-going debate in the literature on crime and in the popular culture about the nature and extent of female criminality. This debate has centered on the question of changing patterns of female crime. On the one side of the debate is the view that female involvement in crime has increased significantly, but particularly for violent crime. Proponents of this perspective suggest the emergence of a new female offender. On the other side of the debate is the view that despite fluctuations in the crime rae, female involvement in violent crime has remained fairly stable over time. Involvement in today's drug market has been implicated with increased violent female criminality (Inciardi, 1990; Baskin and Sommers, 1993, 1999; Johnson, 1990; and Fagan, 1994), thus the focus of the analysis in this paper is on the relationship between drug use and violent crime.

Based on data collected on a sample of 67 female arrestees (drawn from Pennsylvania's SANTA study), we examine the following four hypotheses: 1) the greater the degree of drug use, the greater the degree of violent crime; 2) the greater the degree of drug dependency, the greate rthe degree of violent crime; 3) the greater the degree of drug dependence on cocaine/crack, the greater the degree of violent crime; and 4) the earlier the age onset for drug use, the greater the involvement in violent crime. Generally, our findings suggest there is little evidence to support the contention of a "new" female offender.

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Updated 05/20/2006