by Frances Heidensohn (ed). Devon, UK: Willan Publishing, 2006. 320pp. Hardback. £45.00/$74.95. ISBN: 9781843922001. Paper. £22.00/$34.95. ISBN: 9781843921998.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Gordon, Department of Political Science and International Affairs, Kennesaw State University. Email: egordon [at] kennesaw.edu.
In GENDER AND JUSTICE: NEW CONCEPTS AND APPROACHES, editor Frances Heidensohn introduces readers to a variety of studies in gendered criminology with an emphasis on works written by younger researchers pushing the field in new directions or extending the more established approaches.
In her introduction, Heidenson notes both change and continuity in the field of feminist criminology, which is only a couple of decades old (emerging in the late 1970s). She notes a remarkable continuity in the kinds of questions asked about the relationship between gender, crime and punishment. For example, questions about the gender gap between male and female offenders and offenses remain strong and important, as do theoretical concerns about generalizability and studies of disparate treatment of male and female offenders in the justice systems. And yet, even though these themes continue to inspire study, the field is also growing, becoming established, and pursuing innovative methods. In GENDER AND JUSTICE, Heidenson showcases the new. The book is organized loosely into three sections: offending, the criminal justice system, and new concepts/approaches. Most studies are conducted in and focused on the United Kingdom, but there are also articles regarding gender and crime in Canada, Ireland, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Several themes recur throughout the articles in the book. One is an emphasis on familial and family-like relationships. In one of the book’s most interesting pieces, Rachel Condry interviews relatives of serious offenders in order to understand the “broader impact of crime.” She finds that the work of tending to an incarcerated felon (visiting, writing, championing, and so on) falls predominately to female relatives, often at a high social and emotional cost to themselves. In another piece, Barbara Mason writes about an experimental facility for female prisoners in Ireland, in which the women live in a nearly home-like environment, with all outward signs of institutionalization de-emphasized. They reside in “houses,” rather than cellblocks, and those who dwell in each house are responsible for running the house and resolving conflicts among housemates. In yet another subject with a familial theme, Judith Rumgay examines the Griffins Society, a private organization started in the 1960s that supported hostels and other services for female offenders in London. Comprised of women from Britain’s social elite, the Griffins’ project was profoundly shaped by the maternal perspective of the organization. This maternal focus can be seen in a literal way through the hostel programs supporting pregnant women and mothers, but also in the fact that the Griffins were lay people who saw [*826] themselves acting from personal experience rather than professional training or ideological imperative.
Another interwoven theme is the ever-shifting characterization of female offenders. What does not change is that the offenders themselves have little to no control over how they are defined or described. (Apparently, self-definition is one of the casualties of prosecution and conviction.) Other-driven definitions of female offenders are sometimes benevolent, and nearly always instrumental. Typically, female offenders, as compared to male offenders, are defined as somehow less blame-worthy or responsible for the offenses they have committed. For example, Kate Steward (director of the aforementioned Griffins Society) describes the stories defense attorneys tell judges in order to get favorable pre-trial treatment for their clients. Stories portraying female clients as led astray by bad men, ready for change, more a victim than an offender frequently play on the paternalism of older male judges. Another re-characterization – of young female offenders as “mad” rather than “bad” – is demonstrated in Nicola Hutson and Carrie Anne Myers’ study of young female offenders. They report that all of the subjects they interviewed were routinely offered medication by prison doctors for various psychological conditions such as anxiety, sleeping problems and depression. In another context, sociologist Joanna Phoenix explains that the British criminal justice system employs various characterizations of street prostitutes: “as offenders; threats to public sexual health; victims of child abuse, and vulnerable women who must be compelled to seek help.” These characterizations overlap to form a web of state interventions into the lives of poor women trying to support themselves through prostitution.
GENDER AND JUSTICE would probably make a good reader for classes in various aspects of gender studies, or women and law. The collection would be instructional in that it touches on various aspects of criminology as well as different strands of feminism, plus the essays are of an accessible length and level for undergraduate or graduate students. (Rather than fully developed research treatises, the entries in this volume are more like snapshots of feminist criminology projects). Furthermore, a variety of methodological approaches, mostly qualitative but also some quantitative, are represented. While criminologists and political scientists have some overlapping interests, this volume focuses less directly on traditional political science subjects (institutions, laws, political power) and more on sociological concerns. (Heidensohn herself is a sociologist, as are many contributors). An additional consideration for pedagogical use is its British focus; it does not address criminal justice practice in the United States. In short, a comprehensive look at feminist criminology it is not, nor does it style itself as such. But on its own terms, the volume offers some interesting glimpses into new British scholarship on gender and crime.
© Copyright 2007 by the author, Elizabeth Gordon.