Violent and non-violent convicted women offenders in Fife: an analysis of offending patterns, criminogenic need and effective service provision
This research emerged out of an idea which originated in an earlier MSc dissertation, in which I had explored the differences between male and female offenders (Pullar, 2000). Here I discovered that a substantial number of women had been found guilty of offences that were violent in nature. This finding was backed up by my own recent practice experience relating to women involved in the probation services. What I began to suspect was that women offenders, contrary to conventional assumptions operating within criminal justice social work services, were not an homogeneous group. On the contrary, I began to consider whether there were identifiable differences between women who had been convicted of offences involving violence and those who had been convicted of non-violent offences. This observation led me to turn to some of the more recent research on women offenders, some of which, (e.g. Loucks and Zamble, 2001), suggested that in practice, women offenders display significantly different offending patterns in terms of their pathways into offending, their offending behaviour and the factors that sustain that behaviour. It is also suggested that women w are convicted of violent offences display behaviour that is very similar to that of male offenders. The target group for my own research was all women who had appeared in court and had had a social enquiry report prepared about them and were living in Fife within the financial year April 2003 to March 2004. This time-scale allowed verification of the quantitative data collected, by comparison with figures submitted by Fife Council Criminal Justice Service to the Audit Commission for Scotland. A population of women offenders was considered in this year and 200 separate cases were included. In addition to the quantitative data collected, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 21 women, all of whom were subject to statutory supervision. Both parts of the data collection were completed by August 2004. In order that the quantitative data could be collected in a systematic fashion, the Level of Service Inventory (Revised), or L.S.I.-R., was used to collect information about the target group. Furthermore, two additional parameters were added to this inventory, both of which were factors that had been identified previously by researchers as being associated with offending behaviour in women. These were firstly, experiences of childhood abuse and neglect, and secondly, having a male partner who was involved in criminal activity. The differences between the two groups of women offenders were analysed for statistical significance, using the Excel worksheet package. The L.S.I.-R. was also used in helping to construct a framework for the collection of the qualitative data. The interview schedule for the semi-structured interviews with women probationers was devised to reflect the areas of criminogenic need identified as relevant both by the L.S.I.-R. and by researchers in the field of women offenders (e.g. Carlen, 1988). Once completed, the interviews were transcribed, coded and analysed, with the help of the NUD*IST qualitative data analysis computer package. The research concludes that marked differences were found between women offenders convicted of violent offences and those convicted of offences which did not involve violence. Strong evidence was gathered regarding differences in the ways that the women had become involved in offending and some of the elements that sustained that behaviour, notably substance abuse. There was also some indication that life-course experiences were particularly significant for the group of women who had been convicted of violent offences. The thesis concludes that, in view of the differences, these groups require different kinds of social work service provision.