Sentencing Differences in Male and Female Offenders: Does the Crime Matter?

Dennis Brewster, Auburn University

Persistent argument continues over disparity in sentencing outcomes, both for racial groups and gender. The debate originally centered on racial disparities found in minority groups, particularly African Americans (See Walker, Spohn, and DeLone 2000 for an overview). Feminist scholars have also called for exploration of differences in sentencing patterns for women and men (See Chesney-Lind and Sheldon 1998). Much of the research on gender sentencing differences has used gender as a control variable, while a growing body of literature is being produced studying separate analysis for women and men. The current research follows the second path of analysis. The research explores sentencing differences for women and men convicted of what are believed to be more gender specific offenses, burglary (for men) and larceny-theft (for women). The current research should provide new knowledge in two areas. First, are the crimes under study gender specific? Second, are sentencing patterns different for women and men for these crimes?

Data for the analysis are sentencing data provided by one southern state for the year 2001. Analysis was completed on a subset of the larger population (N-5,332), with only those convicted of burglary (n=423) and larceny (n=427) considered in the current study. Separate regression analysis for those offenders committing burglary for women and men were completed, controlling for both legal and extra-legal factors. The same procedure was used for those convicted of larceny. Comparing regression coefficients for women and men provides an opportunity to examine which factors--legal or extra-legal--are more significant in sentencing patterns. Using a critical feminist perspective, the current analysis should provide insight as to the different sentencing patterns for females and males, focusing on crimes that are believed to be more gender specific.

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Updated 05/20/2006