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The Glueck Women: Using the Past to Assess and Extend Contemporary Understandings of Women's Desistance From Crime

NCJ Number
Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology Volume: 3 Issue: 2 Dated: 2017 Pages: 102-125
Date Published
24 pages
This study examined desistance from crime in a sample of female offenders, using analyses of life history data from a sample of female offenders collected by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck in the early twentieth century.

Recent increases in rates of female offending and associated longitudinal data collection the focused on females have contributed to important advances in the understanding of the theoretical mechanisms that shape female offending from onset through desistance. Even so, this literature lacks a historical context against which to assess the scope and breadth of recent empirical findings and their related theoretical implications. Data from the current study provide a historical backdrop against which to compare contemporary theoretical and empirical findings on desistance, specifically the broad influence and specific character of external change mechanisms for women's desistance. The study used complete retrospective life history and prospective follow-up data for 424 female offenders (264 of whom are desisters). Logistic regression and conjunctive analysis were used to assess the influence of key external change mechanisms on the likelihood of desistance. Findings indicate that, as with contemporary samples, external change mechanisms (marriage, motherhood, and work) were implicated in desistance; however, the specific pattern of effects suggests important and historically contingent differences in how these mechanisms operate over time. The study concludes that external change mechanisms not only activate informal social controls and commitments to a non-criminal identity, but they implicate compliance with gendered social norms. As these norms change, the salience and character of key external change mechanisms for women's desistance should also change. This is the case for males as well, so desistance researchers are encouraged to consider the importance of gender as a social institution and the ways in which it conditions the external change mechanisms available to offenders. 55 references (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2017