Understanding the Range of Female Criminality: A Prison-Based Test of Three Theories

Janice Proctor, University of Kansas

This study tests three well-respected traditional theories of criminality, which were previously tested primarily on adoelscent boys to see if they could be utilized to predict the range of severity of female criminality found in women's prisons. Constructs representing Agenew's Extended Strain Theory, as well as deleterious social structural influences, were tested on a sample of 96 women interviewed by Gilfus in 1966 and 1987 at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Framingham. Multiple regression analyses carried out using Gilfus' data showed that the construct representing Agnew's Extended Strain Theory, deleterious social structural influences, and the construct representing Hirschi's 1969 Social Control Theory each significantly predicted the level of severity of female criminality by themselves, but none of the constructs by themselves was able to be combined to improve the prediction of the level of female criminality.

Constructs representing three traditional theories of criminality (Agnew's Extended Strain Theory, Sutherland's Differential Association Theory, and Hirschi's 1969 Social Control Theory), as well as deleterious social structural influence (e.g. low income), were tested on a new sample of 120 female inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility in August of 2001. The findings obtained from analyzing data from the Topeka Sample are somewhat similar to the findings reported from carrying out regression analyses on Gilfus' data. The construct of Extended Strain was a significant predictor of level of criminality in both samples, but while deleterious social structural influences added to the prediction of Extended Strain in the Topeka sample, this was not found in the data from Gilfus' sample. These results from analyzing both sets of data on imprisoned women suggest that some of the ideas contained in Agnew's Extended Strain Theory may offer insights into more serious female criminality.

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Updated 05/20/2006