Assessing the Impact of the Women's Movement on Sex-Based Differences in the Handling of Adult Criminal Defendants

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The purpose of this report is to evaluate the argument that, with changes in sex roles and the contemporary women's movement, sex differences in the handling of criminal defendants are diminishing. After a review of the empirical evidence, five factors are suggested as helping to account for the apparently consistent finding of preferential treatment (though of small magnitude) of female defendants across most offense categories. These five factors are chivalry, naiveté, practicality, defendants' perceived future criminality, and the perceived danger associated with defendants. The diminution of sex differences in sentencing outcomes must be a result of changes in sentencing practices. In examining the selected factors in the context of sentencing practices, it is argued that (1) the evidence does not show chivalry to be an important determinant of sentencing decisions; rather, the factors of perceived danger and future criminality appear more significant; (2) even if chivalry were a significant determinant, the evidence suggests that court officials remain as chivalrous as ever; and (3) Supreme Court decisions, increasing professionalism of court officials, and bureaucratization of the courts may have reduced sentencing disparities by sex, as they appear to have done with respect to race and social class. It is concluded that changing sex role definitions and the contemporary women's movement have had little impact on sentencing outcomes of either male or female defendants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-357
Number of pages14
JournalCrime & Delinquency
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1980

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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