Gender and sentencing: An investigation of prior record, current offense, family status and sociodemographic characteristics in Pennsylvania

Marva Chevalier-Barrow, Fordham University

Abstract

Early research on the role of gender in criminal justice processing led to the hypothesis that women received preferential treatment, particularly at the sentencing stage. More recent studies have argued that the preferential treatment of women depends on the type of current offense. Women convicted of property crimes, that is crimes more typical of their gender, will be treated more harshly than men.^ In evaluating the preferential treatment hypothesis, this research expands the sentencing outcomes beyond receiving a jail term and the length of the jail sentence to include whether probation is required for those not receiving jail terms and the length of probation. The study improves on earlier measures of legal variables known to influence sentencing outcomes by further differentiating type and seriousness of current offense and prior offense. In addition to including sociodemographic characteristics, the importance of familial responsibilities is directly examined. The data were collected and compiled by the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission based on a random sample of sentencing decisions made in 1977 and includes information on 2,907 convicted persons.^ Of the four sentencing outcomes examined, there is no evidence that women are treated more harshly than men. Support for the preferential treatment hypothesis, however, is also limited. For drug and person crimes, women are less likely to receive a jail term than men. For property and other crimes, the chances of receiving a jail term are similar for women and men. Gender has no independent effect on the other sentencing outcomes. The most important variables affecting all sentencing decisions are the legal variables of current offense with both seriousness and type of offense being relevant. The findings suggest that family status plays a role in the kind of sentence received with married people being less likely to be sent to jail and less likely to be placed on probation. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Marva Chevalier-Barrow, "Gender and sentencing: An investigation of prior record, current offense, family status and sociodemographic characteristics in Pennsylvania" (January 1, 1992). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI9223808.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI9223808

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