Book Review: “If Women Want Equality of Opportunity They Can Also Have Equality of Punishment”

Date01 September 2005
Published date01 September 2005
Subject MatterArticles
CJR284309.vp 10.1177/0734016805284309
Criminal Justice Review
Book Review Essays
Book Review Essays
Criminal Justice Review
Volume 30 Number 2
September 2005 207-214
“If Women Want Equality of
© 2005 Georgia State University
Research Foundation, Inc.
Opportunity They Can Also
hosted at
Have Equality of Punishment”
Nicola L. Groves
University of Sunderland
Women and the Criminal Justice System, by Katherine Stuart van Wormer and
Clemens Bartollas. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000. pp. 244.
Counselling Female Offenders and Victims: A Strengths-Restorative Approach, by
Katherine van Wormer. New York: Springer, 2001. pp. 377.
The Incarcerated Woman: Rehabilitative Programming in Women’s Prisons, by
Susan F. Sharp (Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2003. pp. 189.
Debates about the nature and extent of women’s offending, whether women’s crime rates
are rising faster than men’s and whether women offenders are becoming more masculine
(Adler, 1975; Simon, 1975) have been highly contested criminological issues since the 1970s
(Box & Hale, 1983). At the turn of the century, in the wake of the antifeminist backlash
(Faludi, 1991), arguably a more pertinent, less mediacentric question needs to be addressed:
Why is it that there has been a significant increase in women’s imprisonment? International
research points to the increasing rates of women’s imprisonment globally (see, for example,
Collins, 1997; Gelsthorpe & Morris, 2002) as a by-product of the so-called gender-blind
treatment of women in the criminal justice system. The adage if women “want equality of
opportunity they can also have equality of punishment” (van Wormer & Bartollas, 2000, p.
74) seems to be alive and well.
What connects the books under review within this article is that they all variously explore,
in the American context, (a) the issue of women’s imprisonment, (b) how women’s imprison-
ment far from reflects an equality of punishment, and (c) the debate on women’s empower-
ment. Empowerment of women, in turn, is an underlying goal of all three texts. The primary
audience for all three books are students from the various disciplines of criminology and
social work, and any other students interested in women’s involvement in the criminal justice
system. Sharp’s text is also intended for contemporary feminist criminologists, policy mak-
ers, and correctional officers. Each of the books is presented in textbook style, with chapters
divided by frequent subheadings; highlighted boxes are used to distinguish important points
and examples; and key statistics are listed and bullet pointed. The layout of Sharp, with refer-
ences at the end of each chapter, instead of being a single list at the end of the book, and with-
out an index, makes it hard to relocate citations and occasional references.
Taking the texts in chronological order then, van Wormer and Bartollas have produced a
succinct, well-written overview of women in the criminal justice system. From the outset, the

Criminal Justice Review
underlying purpose of the book is established: “to empower women who are offenders, vic-
tims and workers in the criminal justice system” (p. 3). As neither the offender, victim, or
practitioner is the target audience, I assume that this aim is implicit in the feminist empower-
ment perspective in which this book is rooted. But change will not necessarily ensue simply
by raising students’ awareness of the dynamics of power (class, race, and gender) operating
in the criminal justice system. Indeed, Kennedy (2005) suggests that there is already “greater
awareness of the ways in which discrimination works” yet “not enough has changed” (p. 1).
Five feminist themes are identified and developed throughout. Recognizing that women
are not a homogeneous group, the authors highlight the “multiple marginality” (Chesney-
Lind, 1997, p. 4) women experience and further acknowledge that the experiences of these
categories of inequality are interconnected, by no means hierarchical. The same is true for
van Wormer (2001, p. 26). In this sense, the book can be considered consistent (if not fully
developed) with Hall’s perspective of articulation theory, a cultural studies approach sadly
lacking in mainstream criminology. The authors point to the social construction of knowl-
edge, in particular, its male orientation. Although this is a noteworthy and welcome
approach, it does seem to privilege patriarchy as the sole source of oppression. Surely, Black
women are oppressed by more than patriarchal structures. What about the impacts of imperi-
alism and colonization? These questions obviously have a bearing on the fifth and arguably
most important theme of the book: empowerment.
The second chapter, “Women in Crime,” presents theoretical explanations for women’s
offending behavior. Discussions of women’s different pathways into crime are succinct, if
somewhat brief, and would have benefited from reference to Beth Richie’s (1996) notion of
the gender entrapment of African American women. In exploring the nature and extent of
female criminality, the authors focus on women’s violent offending and drug-related crime.
The full extent of women’s offending behavior is not explored. It is well documented that
women are involved in all types of crime to a different degree but that women are still
involved primarily in less serious types of crime.
International comparisons of women’s offending rates could have usefully been added. As
Heidensohn (2002) notes, “in England and Wales most known female offending is at the
minor end of the spectrum: in 1999, 33% related to indictable offences” (p. 495). Further-
more, in the United Kingdom, battered women’s syndrome is not a commonly used phrase,
much less a legal defense. Lobbying groups such as Justice for Women are campaigning for
self-preservation to be recognized as a legitimate defense (Griffiths, 2000). In addition, when
looking at the rates of violence among ethnic minorities (p. 120) and considering interna-
tional research (p. 122), I wondered why there was no inclusion of discourse around dowry
murder (Rudd, 2001), a point that is touched on in van Wormer (2001, pp. 88-89).
I welcome the fact that the authors do not make “the assumption that female offending
needs to be compared with male and that the significant issues are...

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