Women Decision-Making and Responsibility-Taking of Criminal Lifestyle: The Israeli Case

Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 6, June 2022, 872 –890.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00938548211066902
Article reuse guidelines: sagepub.com/journals-permissions
© 2022 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
The Israeli Case
Ashkelon Academic College, Ashkelon, Israel
Ashkelon Academic College, Ashkelon, Israel
Be’er Ya’akov Center for Mental Health, Israel
This study aims to investigate patterns of decision-making and responsibility-taking as opposed to the compulsion process
selection of a criminal lifestyle among women in prison. A life story approach and semi-structured interviews sampling 30
Israeli women in prison during their first imprisonment were used. Using a mixed-method, results revealed that most of the
participants claimed full or partial self-responsibility for having engaged in a criminal lifestyle or for the offense of which
they had been convicted. This figure was consistent when the participants were divided by age of first offense or a history of
abuse. The results support the need for an integrated approach explaining women’s criminal paths, including gender-specific
as well as gender-neutral factors. The conclusion is that responsibility-taking for a criminal act should be one of the factors
in intervention programs for women with delinquent behavior, regardless of whether there is a history of victimization or not.
Keywords: incarcerated women; decision-making; criminogenic needs; life course; abuse
Women comprise about 51% of the world’s population, yet the percentage of women in
prison varies worldwide, ranging from 1% to 21% of the entire prison population
(Walmsley, 2017). They have lower arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates and lower
recidivism rates than do men (Davidson & Chesney-Lind, 2009; Geraghty & Woodhams,
2015). Yet, in recent years, female delinquent behavior, including serious offenses like mur-
der or sexual abuse, as well as economic offenses has increased (Ministry of Justice, 2018;
U.S. Sentencing Commission [USSC], 2020).
Most traditional and contemporary approaches to accounts of women’s criminal behav-
ior focus on gender-specific factors or criminogenic needs of incarcerated women, includ-
ing the history of abuse and victimization, mental problems, or drug abuse (Brennan et al.,
2012; DeHart et al., 2014; Scott et al., 2016). These approaches portray women in prison as
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Judith Abulafia is now affiliated to Be’er Ya’akov Center for Mental Health, Israel.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Irit Adamchuk, Ashkelon Academic College,
12 Ben Tzvi Street, P.O. Box 1071, Ashkelon 78109, Israel; e-mail: iryn4ik@gmail.com.
1066902CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211066902Criminal Justice and BehaviorAdamchuk, Abulafia / Women Decision Making of Criminal Lifestyle
having no alternative or as having been passively led to commit crimes. A question arises as
to whether women’s criminal behavior can be explained solely by viewing them as victims
of circumstances? This is in light of the fact that many approaches and studies referred to
male criminal behavior as a rational choice and highlights the need to take responsibility to
begin rehabilitating processes (Charlopova et al., 2020; Kelly & Ward, 2020).
Despite an increase in studies on these topics among men, there is a noticeable shortage
of studies on these topics among women in prison. This study makes a significant contribu-
tion to the completion of the existing gap by examining whether and how patterns of choices
and taking responsibility for criminal lifestyle decisions of incarcerated women are reflected
in their life stories.
Research on female criminal lifestyles or pathways has grown substantially for the last
few decades (Chesney-Lind, 1989; Daly, 1992; DeHart, 2018; Flood-Page et al., 2000;
Moffitt & Caspi, 2001; Nuytiens & Christiaens, 2016; Simpson et al., 2016). In just the last
two decades, studies on female pathways have focused on two ways of explaining what
leads women to embark upon a criminal lifestyle and how to identify the optimal interven-
tion. The first, the gender-specific approach (Caudy et al., 2018; Holtfreter, 2015; Vos et al.,
2013), also known as a gender-informed (Blanchette & Brown, 2006; Blanchette & Taylor,
2009) or gender-responsive (Bloom et al., 2003) approach, assumes that there are “gen-
dered” pathways through which the unique life experiences of women are linked to criminal
behavior. Factors such as mental health, drug abuse, and histories of victimization have
been found to be connected to female criminal behavior (Brennan et al., 2012; DeHart et al.,
2014; Scott et al., 2016). Studies have generally addressed positivistic elements, such as the
age when women begin and end their criminal careers and their history of victimization.
One of the first studies in the field of pathways was of Moffitt et al. (1996) who found that
there are two onsets to antisocial behavior: childhood and adolescent. Factors for child-
hood-onset delinquent behavior included dysfunctional families and neurocognitive or
behavioral problems and were a source of criminal behavior, especially among men.
Adolescent-onset antisocial behavior characterized some male and female delinquent
behavior and includes impulsive personality traits, mental health problems, and substance
dependence (Moffitt & Caspi, 2001).
Other studies found that women with adolescent-onset criminal behavior have histories
of running away from abusive homes, more extensive offending histories, higher drug
involvement (use/dealing), a greater variety of types of offenses committed (Daly, 1992;
DeHart, 2018; Papalia et al., 2018; Peterson et al., 2019; Simpson et al., 2008, 2016), and
histories of parental incarceration (Burgess-Proctor et al., 2016). These women were usu-
ally convicted of drug, violent, or theft-related offenses.
For example, Daly (1992) found five pathways that women in prison had followed, with
most of them either having suffered a history of abuse as children or adults or having engaged
in drug use and addiction. Richie (1995) found several women’s pathways to crime based on
their social marginalization, including factors such as poverty, homelessness, educational
and vocational problems, and race and social status. Recent studies show similar findings
(Brennan et al., 2012; Burgess-Proctor et al., 2016; DeHart, 2018; Salisbury & Van Voorhis,
2009; Simpson et al., 2008), identifying childhood and adult victimization, mental health

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