Female Offenders

Women are often treated unjustly in many areas of society, but when it comes to crime they fare better than men. Women are both less likely to be convicted of crimes, and more likely to receive lighter sentences than men facing the same charges.

The table below shows the difference between females and males when it comes to charges and conviction for the years 2003/2004 and 2008/2009. It can be seen that women are less likely to be found guilty, more likely to have their cases stayed (suspended) or withdrawn (the case is no longer being prosecuted) from court and less likely to face multiple charges.

2003/2004 2008/2009
Females Males Females Males
Guilty Verdict 51% 59% 59% 68%
Stayed/Withdrawn 44% 34% 37% 28%
Multiple Charges 45% 52% 55% 62%

Sources: Statistics Canada (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics), 2008

Inequality was also seen in sentencing, especially for prison sentences. In 1983/1984 only 2% of offenders admitted to federal prisons were females. From 1994 to 1997 only a little over 20% of convicted female offenders were sentenced to prison, while 30-40% faced less severe sentences of probation and fines. The table below shows the full range of sentencing of women for these three years.

Disposition 1994/1995 1995/1996 1996/1997
Prison 23% 22% 22%
Probation 34% 34% 38%
Fine 37% 34% 34%
Restitution .09% .06% .10%
Other* 3% 3% 5%
Unknown 4% 6% 1%

* “Other” most serious sentences include absolute and conditional discharge, suspended sentence, payment of legal costs and suspension of drivers license.
Source: Correctional Service Canada, 1998

A decade later in 2003/2004, fewer females than males received prison sentences despite how severe the crimes they committed were. For crimes against the person, twice as many males as females were sentenced to incarceration. For crimes against property men were almost 20% more likely than women to face prison. This kind of difference held true for cases of major assault, robbery, break and enter, and fraud. In 2008/2009, the unequal treatment continued, as 23% of females and 37% of males were sentenced to prison.

Furthermore, the length of prison sentences has also proven to be unequal between women and men. For crimes against the person in 2003/2004 the median sentence length of incarceration was 30 days for females and 60 days for males. For property crimes females faced 30 days while males faced 45. This trend of females receiving shorter incarceration lengths was also seen in 2008/2009. Manslaughter cases since 1991 highlight the disparity: at the low-end probation versus 46 months and at the high-end five years versus life.

One possible explanation for the difference in conviction rates is the difference in multiple charges. Often, cases featuring multiple charges result in increased conviction rates because the defendant will plead guilty to at least one of the charges. Women are less likely to face multiple charges, and so this could contribute to their lower conviction rates and the differences in sentencing and lengths of incarceration. The fact that most female offenders are first-time offenders could also affect conviction and sentencing, as some jurisdictions use adult diversion programs (a voluntary program that is offered for minor offences) that keep first-time offenders from being convicted, while previous criminal behaviour is usually considered during sentencing. For cases of manslaughter, sentences were often lighter for women as things such as intoxication and mental health as the result of being a prior victim of abuse were considered. Perhaps gender stereotypes play a role as well, since women are normally perceived as the weaker and more innocent gender. All of these factors can be used to account for the inequality that favours of female offenders in the courts.

– Blair Kerr

Further Readings:

Stone, Laura. “Women Behind Bars: Canada’s only dangerous female offender.” Calgary Herald. N.p., 25 May 2012. Web.                                                        http://www.calgaryherald.com/Women+Behind+Bars+Canada+only+female+dangerous+offender/5547732/story.html.
This newspaper article is an in-depth look into the criminal past and the imprisonment of Canada’s only dangerous female offender, Renne Acoby.

“The Transformation of Federal Corrections for Women.” Correctional Service of  Canada. N.p., 6 July 2012. Web.                                                                                    http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/pblct/choix/6-eng.shtml.
This government webpage addresses some common myths about incarcerated women; many of which are used to say that women are actually the ones being treated unfairly under the justice system.


Dell, Colleen, and Roger Boe. “Adult Female Offenders in Canada: Recent Trends.” Correctional Service of Canada. N.p., 15 May 1998. Web. 04 Nov. 2012.

Hatch, Alison, and Karlene Faith. “The Female Offender in Canada: A Statistical Profile.” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 3, 1989-90, 432-456.  Web link.

Kong, Rebecca, and Kathy AuCoin. “Female Offenders in Canada.” Statistics Canada. N.p., Jan. 2008. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.

Mahony, Tina Hotton. “Women and the Criminal Justice System.” Statistics Canada. N.p., 12 Feb. 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.

“Report on Sentencing for Manslaughter in Cases Involving Intimate Relationships.” Department of Justice Canada. N.p., 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 04 Nov. 2012.


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