You are looking at 81-100 of 252 articles
Extortion as a crime has long attracted the interest of scholars, and much effort has been put into coining a precise definition that would allow distinguishing it from other similar predatory practices such as blackmail, bribery, coercion, and robbery. Academic literature classifies extortive practices according to their degree of complexity and involvement of organized crime. In this sense, the simplest form of extortion displays one offender who receives a one-time benefit from one victim, while the most sophisticated form is illustrated by racketeering, whereby an organized crime group systematically extorts money from multiple victims. Extortion as an organized crime activity can involve both episodic extortion practices and well-rooted systemic practices over a certain territory, where the latter is usually regarded as perpetrated by Mafia-type criminal organizations. Some scholars argue that extortion racketeering as a Mafia crime should be defined as sale and provision of extralegal protection services—protection of property rights, dispute resolution, and enforcement of contracts. However, others contend that extortion by Mafia-type organizations should not be counted as an economic activity but rather be considered as an illegal form of taxation imposed by quasi-political groups. In economic terms, it is a transfer of value and creates no economic output.
In contrast with the traditional understanding of extortion racketeering as “defining activity of organized crime,” some scholars have also focused on “extortion under the color of office,” or, in other words, extortion perpetrated by public servants or politicians in their official capacity. Extortion has often been compared with bribery, since both crimes can be defined as an unlawful conversion of properties and goods belonging to someone else for one’s own personal use and benefit. The debate on the differences between bribery and extortion, however, is a contested one, and has followed two lines of argument: respectively, the degree of coercion involved in the crime and the role (or modus operandi) of public officials in the bribery and extortive scheme. The common element for both crimes is the fact that representatives of the state abuse their power and official position for their own benefit.
Stories involving false confessions can be emotional and moving, as they appeal to our innate desire for justice. As such, stories of false confessions can be powerful tools in books, films, and televisions shows. The way that a false confession is framed, and the context in which it is introduced to consumers (whether as readers or viewers) makes a big difference in how a false confession will be perceived.
In fictional stories in print or on screen, typically the viewer (or reader) has some sense of a person’s true innocence or guilt. In a television show, the viewer may have already seen a clip of the crime with the true criminal. Other musical or visual cues may also give viewers clues as to the true guilt or innocence of an individual offering a confession to a crime. Because viewers know, or will know, the true identity of the person who committed the crime in question, the use of an interrogation or a false confession (or both) can be used to demonstrate the moral character of the confessor. In exactly the same way, the use of a false confession in a fictional story can be used to demonstrate the morality of a police officer or even a whole police department. For example, a scene depicting the interrogation of a suspect that viewers know is not guilty may be used to demonstrate the use of immoral, coercive interrogation techniques by television detectives.
In nonfiction, the exploration of false confessions is often used to demonstrate the fallibility of the justice system. Because the idea that an innocent person would confess falsely to a crime that they did not commit seems incredibly counterintuitive to the average person, in-depth explorations (whether in documentaries, podcast series, newspaper or magazine expose, etc.) of the process by which false confessions can happen can be instrumental in helping people understand the reality of the phenomenon. The way a case or a confession is framed in the media and understood in popular culture also impacts our social construction of that person’s guilt or innocence.
Tara E. Sutton and Leslie Gordon Simons
Family violence encompasses a broad range of maltreatment types between family members including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect and financial exploitation. Such violence includes child maltreatment, sibling abuse, intimate partner violence, and elder mistreatment. Family violence is relatively common and represents a significant social, legal, and public health problem. Specifically, research shows that rates of family violence range from 10% to 45% across family relationships in the United States. Moreover, family violence tends to occur in a socioecological context characterized by risk and vulnerability and is related to various negative consequences including psychological distress, health risks, injury, and even death. Despite overlap in the causes and consequences of family violence, work on each type has largely developed independently. However, several theoretical perspectives have been offered that apply broadly to this important social issue. Additionally, existing criminological theories can be utilized to understand the nature and consequences of family violence.
Fear of crime has been a serious social problem studied for almost 40 years. Early researchers focused on operationalization and conceptualization of fear of crime, specifically focusing on what fear of crime was (and was not) and how to best tap into the fear of crime construct. This research also found that while crime rates had been declining, fear of crime rates had stayed relatively stable. Nearly 40% of Americans indicated they were afraid of crime, even though crime was declining during the same time period. This finding led researchers to study the paradox of fear of crime. In other words, why does fear of crime not match up with actual chances of victimization? Several explanations were put forth including a focus on vulnerability (e.g., individuals felt vulnerable to crime even if they were not vulnerable) and a focus on differences in groups (e.g., women were more afraid of crime than men, even though they were less likely to be victims). Thus, many studies began to consider the predictors of fear of crime. Researchers since this time have spent most time studying these fear of crime predictors including individual level predictors (i.e., sex, race, age, social class), contextual predictors (neighborhood disorder, incivilities, and social cohesion), along with the consequences of fear of crime (psychological and behavioral). Such results have provided guidance on what individuals fear, why they fear, and what impact it has on the daily lives of Americans. Future research will continue to focus on groups little is known about, such as Hispanics, and also on the impact of behavior on fear of crime. This future research will likely also benefit from new techniques in survey research that analyzes longitudinal data to determine causality between fear of crime and other predictors such as risk and behavior.
Kathryn Henne and Rita Shah
In response to the limitations of mainstream criminology, feminist and visual criminology offer alternative approaches to the study of crime, deviance, justice institutions, and the people implicated by them. Although feminist and visual lines of criminological inquiry have distinct foci and analytical strengths, they both illuminate disciplinary blind spots. Feminist criminology responds to criminology’s embedded gender biases, while visual criminology challenges criminology’s reliance on text and numbers. They offer approaches to redress criminology’s general lack of attention to the broader cultural dynamics that inform crime, both as a category and as a practice. Unpacking the visual through a feminist criminological lens is an emergent critical project, one that brings together and extends existing feminist and visual criminological practices. Combining feminist criminology and visual studies offers new possibilities in the areas of theory and methodology. Doing so also lends to new modes through which to query gendered power relationships embedded in the images of crime, deviance, and culture. Moreover, such an approach provides alternative lenses for illuminating the constitutive relationships between visuality, crime, and society, many of which exceed mainstream criminological framings. It brings together interdisciplinary perspectives from feminist studies and visual studies rarely engaged by mainstream criminology. Thus, a feminist visual criminology, as an extension of feminist criminology’s deconstructivist aims, has the potential to pose significant—arguably foundational—critiques of mainstream criminology.
A discussion of feminist perspectives on crime and criminal justice in popular culture has to begin by pointing out that pop culture itself has traditionally been gendered as feminine. As epitomized by abstract visual art, nonnarrative poetry, and auteur cinema, high culture is still regarded in some critical circles as the opposite of popular culture, which is associated with the seductive and immersive qualities of mass media. Resulting from a masculinist aesthetic that privileged difficulty and abstraction as in Modernist poetics, so-called feminine forms have traditionally been considered to be less valuable than ones associated with masculinity. Media vehicles associated most readily and negatively with popular culture are those directed primarily at women audiences, such as daytime television, romance novels, and women’s magazines. Associated with the domestic space, leisure time, and unemployment, television itself was until recently viewed as a less-valuable, feminine medium.
For these reasons, and because of television’s preoccupation with crime, this article concentrates on television as a formally feminized medium that has for technological and social reasons now become more highly valued. Critiquing the conjoining of masculinity and cultural value is a feminist task. As viewers watch their favorite series in public spaces on handheld devices, and certain series are considered novelistic and complex enough to supersede other cultural forums, television has gained new cultural credence and is a premier space in which to relate popular images about women and criminal justice.
Nancy C. Jurik and Gray Cavender
The academic literature notes that male-centered protagonists dominated the crime genre (novels, film, television) for many years. However, beginning in the 1970s, when women began to enter the real world of policing, they also began to appear in the crime genre. Scholars describe how in those early years, women were depicted as just trying to “break in” to the formerly male world of genre protagonists. They experienced antipathy from their peers and superiors, a situation that continued into the 1980s. In the 1990s, television programs like Prime Suspect addressed the continuing antipathy but also demonstrated that the persistence and successes of women protagonists began to change the narrative of the crime genre. Indeed, some scholars noted the emergence of a feminist crime genre in which plot lines were more likely to address issues that concerned women, including issues of social justice that contextualized crimes. Not only was there an abundance of women-centered genre productions, there was a significant increase in academic scholarship about these protagonists. Some scholars argue that once women in the crime genre reached a critical mass, some of their storylines began to change. There was a tendency for women to be seen as less feminist in their career orientations and more like traditional genre protagonists, e.g., brooding, conflicted, and oppressive. Plots abandoned social justice issues in favor of more traditional “whodunits” or police procedural narratives. The same darkness that characterized men in the crime genre could now be applied to women. Some scholars have argued that a few feminist-oriented productions continue to appear. These productions demonstrate a concern not only with gender but also with issues pertaining to race, class, sexual orientation, and age. For the most part, these productions still center on white, heterosexual women, notwithstanding some attention to these larger social matters.
Janine Little and Danielle Tyson
Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent killing a child. Despite its low occurrence, filicide is one of the most emotive offenses for a public audience. The murder of a child by their own parent challenges many of our fundamental expectations about the role of parenthood, prompting a sense of horror, outrage, and deep distress: It violates the idea of parental instincts as a protection for children. While maternal and paternal filicide is committed in roughly equal numbers, historically, filicide has been regarded as a female crime. However, media coverage of mothers who commit filicide differs from coverage of fathers who commit the same crime. Infanticidal mothers in particular have a long history of being demonized by the media and in popular culture. Research shows that this is partly because such events shatter expected feminine and maternal norms. Despite the considerable body of scholarly work conducted in this area of crime and media culture, there were few studies of filicide in Australia until recently. As a consequence, the media’s portrayal of these tragic cases is to treat them as “inexplicable” while also attempting to find an explanation, most often through stereotyping, simplification, or rationalization.
Film noir is a term coined by French critics in 1946 to describe what they considered an emerging and exciting trend in Hollywood films—one that signaled a new maturity in American cinema. The term translates into English as “black film,” and the darkness to which it refers applies both to the grim themes and events in many of these movies, as well as to their dark look. Many of them deal with doomed characters entangled in immoral and/or criminal activities that go horribly wrong. Such characters lose their psychological mooring and become increasingly desperate, and the depiction of that desperation can at times destabilize the traditional securities and aesthetic distance of the viewer from the events of the film. The cinematography of many of these movies often features images crisscrossed with ominous shadows and filled with dark, mysterious spaces.
This article explores the origins of the genre in the 1940s, major influences upon it, its development and many transformations, its intersections with other genres, its place in Hollywood history as well as postwar American culture, its frequent bouts with industry censorship, reasons for the difficulties that critics encounter with defining it, its ongoing popularity, and its extensive influence upon multiple media.
Finance crime, that is, white-collar crime that occurs in the markets for financial goods and services, appears to be pervasive in 21st-century capitalism. Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, virtually all established financial institutions have been implicated in finance crime scandals, ranging from the mis-selling of financial products to money laundering and from insider dealing to the rigging of financial benchmarks. The financial stakes involved in such scandals are often significant, and at times have the potential to destabilize entire economies. This makes the phenomenon of finance crime a highly relevant topic for white-collar crime researchers. A major challenge, however, for those studying the phenomenon of finance crime is to engage with the complex mechanics of finance crime schemes. These often involve esoteric financial instruments and are embedded in arcane market practices, making them seem impenetrable for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of financial market practices. A helpful way to make the empirical universe of finance crimes intelligible is to construct a typology. This can be meaningfully done by distinguishing finance crimes by the different rationales that underlie the laws and regulations they violate. Doing so renders five main types of finance crime. These are (i) financial fraud, (ii) misuse of informational advantages, (iii) financial mis-selling, (iv) market price and benchmark manipulation, and (v) the facilitation of illicit financial flows.
White-collar crime scholars have taken various theoretical and analytical approaches to the study of finance crime. Some scholars have studied finance crimes in the light of their macro-institutional contexts. Such approaches are based on the premise that actors find meaning—motivations and rationalizations—and opportunities for their actions in the cultural and institutional environments in which they are situated and that such environments can be criminogenic in the sense that they structurally facilitate or even promote illegal behaviors. Others have studied the organizational dimensions of finance crime, looking at both the social networks through which finance crimes are perpetrated as well as the ways in which these networks are embedded in broader organizational and industry structures. Still others have studied the costs, consequences, and victims of finance crimes. Finally, some white-collar crime scholars have studied the ways in which societies create legal regimes that prohibit certain financial market practices as well as how these prohibitions are subsequently enforced by regulatory agencies, public prosecutors, and the courts.
Alexes Harris and Frank Edwards
Despite the central role that fines and other fiscal penalties play in systems of criminal justice, they have received relatively little scholarly attention. Court systems impose fines and other monetary sanctions in response to minor administrative and traffic offenses as well as for more serious criminal offenses. Monetary sanctions are intended to provide a deterrent punishment to reduce lawbreaking, to provide opportunities for accountability through financial restitution, to restore harm caused to victims of crime, and to fund the operation and administration of courts and criminal justice systems. Fines, fees, and other monetary sanctions are the most common form of punishment imposed by criminal justice systems. Most criminal sentences in the United States include financial penalties, and monetary sanctions are routinely imposed for less serious, and far more common, infractions such as traffic or parking violations.
For many, paying a monetary sanction for a low-level violation is an annoyance. However, for the poor and people of color who are disproportionately likely to be subject to criminal justice system involvement, monetary sanctions can become a vehicle for expanded social inequality and increasingly severe criminal justice contact. Failure to pay legal financial obligations often results in court summons or license suspensions that may have attendant additional costs and may trigger incarceration. In the United States, the criminal justice system is heavily and routinely involved in the lives of low-income people of color. These already-existing biases, coupled with the deep poverty that is common in many communities, join to widen the net of criminal justice involvement by escalating low-level infractions to far more serious offenses when people are unable to pay. Despite the routine justification of monetary sanctions as less-severe penalties, if imposed without restriction on the poor, they are likely to magnify the inequality producing effects of criminal justice system involvement.
Focused deterrence strategies are increasingly being implemented in the United States to reduce serious violent crime committed by gangs and other criminally-active groups, recurring offending by highly-active individual offenders, and crime and disorder problems generated by overt street-level drug markets. These strategies are framed by an action research model that is common to both problem-oriented policing and public health interventions to reduce violence. Briefly, focused deterrence strategies seek to change offender behavior by understanding underlying crime-producing dynamics and conditions that sustain recurring crime problems and by implementing an appropriately focused blended strategy of law enforcement, community mobilization, and social service actions. Direct communications of increased enforcement risks and the availability of social service assistance to target groups and individuals is a defining characteristic of “pulling levers” strategies.
The focused deterrence approach was first pioneered in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually tested in other jurisdictions. The available empirical evidence suggests these strategies generate noteworthy violence reduction impacts and should be part of a broader portfolio of crime reduction strategies available to policy makers and practitioners. While focused deterrence strategies attempt to prevent crime by changing offender perceptions of sanction risk, complementary crime prevention efforts seem to support the crime control efficacy of these programs. These strategies also seek to change offender behavior by mobilizing community action, enhancing procedural justice, and improving police legitimacy. Focused deterrence strategies hold great promise in reducing serious violence while improving strained relationships between minority neighborhoods and the police departments that serve them.
In this study of how the street robber has been positioned in popular culture, two starkly opposite views are presented on how this figure has been represented: namely, as folk devil and as folk hero. This relatively low-level criminal is involved in criminal activity that delivers low rewards and that is largely inflicted on other poor people. As a result, this robber is on the one hand represented as evil incarnate, a folk devil imagined as posing an existential threat to society and its values. On the other hand, the robber can be positioned as an audacious folk hero, a champion of the downtrodden. This positioning is explored by tracing the changing characterization of the robber over time: notably, the heroic representation of the outlaw in medieval culture, the myths that surrounded the highwaymen of the 18th century, and a more demonic representation by the 19th century, a representation that continues to the present day. While it is no longer possible to conceive of robbers today as folk heroes, many attributes of the heroic robber are still celebrated in popular culture in detective fiction and in RAP music.
Criminology began as a speculative historical discourse about lawbreaking. Guided by the classical utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria, criminology in the late 18th century viewed crime as the result of a hedonistic calculus employed by rational individuals to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. But by the middle of the 19th century, criminology had transformed into a positivist science of the determined causes of crime. New visual technologies of surveillance, classification, and measurement contributed significantly to this reconstitution of criminological knowledge. A genealogy of this transformation in criminological inquiry is found in Michel Foucault’s landmark study, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, in which the French social philosopher pictures optical transformations in the nature of criminological inquiry as an early instance of modern, disciplinary modalities of power and knowledge. Beginning with an analysis of Bentham’s 1791 architectural drawings for a panoptic prison, Foucault links the visual turn in criminological thought to compulsive modern efforts to observe, map, categorize, code, and analytically penetrate the bodies, minds, and behavioral patterns of captured offenders. But visual objectification of this sort results in other things as well—a tragic displacement of the once subversive wisdom of medieval festival and the inscription of a sado-dispassionate “gaze” at the heart of the criminological enterprise itself. Together, these processes institute a seemingly fixed distinction between the subject and the object of the criminologist’s gaze. This distinction is amplified and transgressed in the early 21st century by a host of new, fascinating, and fearful visual cybernetic technologies of power. Following Foucault’s provocative genealogy of the optical foundations of early criminological science, recent digital technological advances in visual surveillance and the high-speed global transmission of visual images of crime today challenge criminology to be reflexive about the situated character of its own power-charged claims to knowledge.
As a discipline, criminology tends to treat terrorism as an objective phenomenon, to be mapped, explained, and managed. Scholars informed by more critical strains of the discipline, however, argue that orthodox criminology is reductive and uncritical. Relying on normative definitions of terrorism, orthodox analyses reproduce assumptions of powerful institutions, thus collaborating and furthering a system of social control marked by increased authoritarianism. Cultural, critical, and constitutive criminologies call for a more politically engaged criminology, which recognizes that power is inherent to knowledge production.
How terrorism is socially constructed and framed is of primary significance, since terrorism is not a given, ontological fact, but rather a power inhered designation. The framing of terrorism through multiple, intersecting, discursive systems impacts radically how we make sense of the world. Cultural discourses (including media representations) intersect with and reinforce other institutional narratives, giving rise to a dominant script, which provides us with a framework for understanding terror.
Examining the cultural and social discourses that constitute this script is not an end point; rather, it is a way into cultural power. It is a means to critically assess cultural myths and ideological frames that are crucial in shaping our perceptions of safety and security, victims and perpetrators, and more. Cultural meanings work their way into our consciousness, engendering a framework for interpreting events and identities, compelling us to understand the world in particular ways, obliging us to consent to real world policies.
Much of the analysis in this vein examines the representation of terrorism and counter-terrorism through Edward Said’s lens of Orientalism. This approach highlights the ways in which terrorism has come to be conflated with Muslim identity, while it also highlights the binary structuring of this “Muslim as terrorist” script, which creates dualistic categories of us versus other, rational versus irrational, modernity versus anti-modernity, and so on. These binaries create essentialized visions of Islam and Muslims as chaotic, violent, and disorderly, who pose an apocalyptic threat to the West. Imagined as Islam’s binary opposite, the West is framed as being perilously at risk from an entire category of people who are discursively transformed into essentialized suspect communities.
These framings come to be institutionalized in the form of anti-terror policies and practices. As an example, the War on Terrorism slogan and the accompanying Orientalist imagery of the Muslim terrorist, was integral to lending legitimacy to international military action, the detentions in Guantanamo Bay, the use of torture, and more, post-9/11. Prevailing framings—dehumanizing and devoid of real context—were the scaffolding on which such policies and practices could be built. Indeed, undergirding the ever-increasing nexus of authoritarian, repressive counter-terrorism measures, is a cultural repertoire of Orientalist meanings that provide the cultural conditions necessary for us to consent to increasing social control. The material and often-brutal consequences of these policies are felt most keenly by those who are caught in the expansive, amorphous category of “Other.” This suffering is largely out of the frame, and instead, we are invited to think of the state response as a logical and necessary step to ensure our safety.
Understanding how abstract discourse comes to be embedded in institutional practice is crucial if criminologists are to take seriously the question of (in)justice. This necessitates resisting the troubling dominant discourses that frame terrorism, and it means that we must reflexively be aware of our own role in perpetuating “knowledge” and a cultural climate within which real people suffer.
James A. Densley
This article examines the who, what, where, when, why, and how of gang joining. The question of what youth join when they join gangs speaks to the contested nature of gang definitions and types and the consequences of gang membership, specifically heightened levels of offending and victimization. The type of gang and the obligations of membership influence the joining process. Where youth join gangs, namely, the neighborhood and social context, also impacts individual opportunities and preferences for joining. When youth join gangs is considered in a developmental sense, to include both adolescent and adult onset, in order to account for continuity and change in individual levels of immersion or “embeddedness” in gangs across the life course. Who joins gangs provides a profile of gang membership grounded in the well-documented risk factors for gang membership, but limited by problems of prediction. Why youth join gangs speaks to the push and pull factors for membership, the appeal of gangs, and the selective incentives they offer. Still, motivations for gang membership cannot fully explain selection into gangs, nor can general theories of crime that do not necessarily fit with general knowledge of gangs. How youth join gangs, for example, is more complicated than initiation rites. The mechanisms underlying the selection process can be understood through the lens of signaling theory, with implications for practice.
Christian L. Bolden
Gang organization has been an aspect of research that is often explored and debated. The concept of organization is intertwined with questions of whether gangs have leaders, whether gangs can be considered organized crime, which groups are actually street gangs, and other related questions. Though there are some crossover categories, street gangs are viewed as distinctly different than organized crime groups, prison gangs, outlaw motorcycle clubs, skinheads, stoners, and taggers.
Gang structures are widely varied, with a few being highly organized and most being loose networks of associates. The organization of a gang may change over time. There is an array of membership types that range from core members who might maintain affiliation well into adulthood to temporary members who only spend a short time in the gang. Gangs may have sub-group clique structures based on age-graded cohorts, neighborhoods, or criminal activity. Leadership roles in gangs rarely take the form of a recognizable figurehead.
These variations have led to a plethora of gang categories that include evolutionary typologies that place gangs by their stage in criminal sophistication, behavioral typologies that identify gangs by the type of criminal behavior the members engage in, and structural typologies that differentiate gangs by the characteristics of their composition. It is important to note that most of the following gang typologies are focused on gangs in the United States and may not be as relevant in other countries.
Major gang affiliations are also explored. Like other aspects of organizations, affiliations are not stable, as gang alliances are volatile. Despite the ability of affiliations to fluctuate, this categorization strategy is commonly used outside of academic research.
While there are multiple possible definitions of what makes a gangster film, ranging from the simple inclusion of a villainous gangster in a film to those that follow outlaws on the run, the classic definition of a gangster film has revolved around the rise and inevitable fall of an immigrant gangster protagonist, a career criminal with whom audiences are expected to identify. Yet this classic definition has been expanded by evolving theoretical and methodological considerations of film genre. From the outset, gangster films were one of the first film genres to be considered by early genre criticism. Based on structural and formal analyses of the so-called Big Three Hollywood gangster films from the 1930s—namely, Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface—early scholars argued that the gangster genre reflected the ideological tensions that underlay the American Dream of material success. Interpreted as modern tragic figures, gun-toting gangsters in these films were trapped in dangerous cities characterized by anonymity, violence, and death. More recently, genre criticism of gangster films has not only shifted emphasis away from the classic gangster narrative, but also paid far greater attention to institutional intertexts that have highly influenced the production and historical reception of these films. By highlighting variability, contingency, mutability, and flexibility, scholars now speak of genre in terms of specific cycles of production, where each cycle produces different gangster figures to mediate changing societal concerns and public discourses around issues of criminality, class, gender, and race.
More contemporary and culturally-specific extensions, adaptations, or articulations of the gangster genre can also be read as thematic explorations of blackness in the following two ways. First, the cycle of ghetto-centric American “hood” films in the 1990s, a cycle that helped to launch hip-hop cinema, points to a continuity between the mythic figure of the gangster and African-American self-representations as “gangsta.” Secondly, while the gangster genre has been defined as a distinctly and explicitly American genre, owing much to critics’ primary emphasis on examining Hollywood films, the genre has also played a significant role in revitalizing and popularizing Hong Kong cinema in the late 1980s and 1990s. Referred to as hak bong dianying (“black gang films”), Cantonese-language Hong Kong gangster films are part of the fabric of local Hong Kong culture, revealing the moral implications of joining “black society” (the Cantonese-language concept for triad) and the “black paths” that members take.
In the contemporary era of “tough on crime” policies and the globalized drug war, the number of women in the criminal justice system has increased across several countries. Women’s involvement in the system is not limited to imprisonment, however, and many criminalized women (those involved in the justice system with the assigned status of defendants, offenders, etc.) participate in community-based programs after serving sentences in prisons or jails or as an alternative to incarceration. Criminalized women encounter multiple interlocking forms of oppression based on sexuality, race and ethnicity, class, disability, immigration status, punishment status, and (importantly) gender. Gendered ideas and norms shape the way women are treated not only by the carceral state but also by community-based, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
NGOs have played an increasingly prominent role in the provision of social services since the 1970s. Organizations working with criminalized people in more affluent, English-speaking nations commonly address job readiness, psychological and substance issues, parenting, sexuality, romantic relationships, and spirituality, among other important areas. Some NGOs work with criminalized people as a condition of their criminal sentences. Criminalized women’s self-reported needs are great, yet resources are often scarce, inadequate, and unwelcoming, particularly for women of color. Responding to a dearth of services available to women, feminists formed NGOs focused on this population beginning in the 1970s; women are also served at NGOs that work with men. “Reducing offending” and “empowerment” are frequently stated goals at NGOs that work with women, but these goals can be interpreted widely depending on the views of NGO leadership and staff about gender.
NGOs can approach women’s gender in a variety of ways. For instance, they can resist or affirm the dominant views used by the carceral state that criminalize and stigmatize women. Their approaches matter because of the implications for equality of opportunities that follow. Two major philosophies can motivate the outreach that NGOs do with criminalized women. Gender sameness disregards gender differences and stresses that it is necessary to treat women “like men” to reverse the disadvantages and marginalization that women encounter. Gender difference emphasizes the importance of treating men or women based on their purportedly unique characteristics and social experiences. Much critical feminist research on NGOs that work with criminalized women has studied programs formed around ideas of gender difference.
Critical researchers have examined gender in organizational work with women outside of prisons, in community-based prisons run by NGOs, and in more traditional prisons. Researchers have examined practices at programs, the philosophies underpinning them, and their implications. This body of work shows that NGOs can perpetuate gendered exclusions and may expand the power of the carceral state. In their prescriptions for responding to the status quo, critical researchers make arguments along a spectrum from advocating more moderate social change, such as by creating more effective programs, to more radical social change, such as by ending community-based programs that perpetuate carceral control.
Sex and gender are often conflated, but there are important distinctions between the two. This is true also with terms related to gender identity, including masculinities and femininities or the performance of gender. In addition, the terms gang and gang member are contested, so it is important to establish a basis for understanding these terms in order to discuss the relationships between gender and gang involvement. Historically, gang-involved young women and men were described in terms of gender extremes, with scholarship and journalistic accounts focusing on the perceived aggressive masculinity of lower class males—and the deviant sexuality of females, who were rarely seen as legitimate full-fledged members of those groups. By the 1980s and 1990s, young women were recognized in scholarship as “real” gang members, and qualitative researchers sought to provide voice to them and examine issues of gender and gender dynamics in gangs, while quantitative researchers sought to explore similarities and differences between girls and boys in gangs, often through large scale studies using self-report surveys of adolescents. Feminist criminology and burgeoning queer criminology have pushed and blurred the boundaries of gender and gang involvement, asserting the importance of taking into account multiple, intersecting identities that differentially structure the experiences of young people, and of the troubling heteronormative, heterosexist, and cisgendered assumptions that have permeated criminology. Moving away from these assumptions means accounting, for example, not only for gender but also for the multiplicative effects of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, etc.; it means considering what the presence of young women in stereotypically hypermasculine environments signifies for gender performance, moving away from assumptions of opposite sex attraction that cast females in supportive and dependent roles with males, and accounting for the experiences of gang members who identify outside gender and sexual orientation binaries. These issues provide fruitful avenues for sensitive and productive future scholarship on gender and gang involvement.