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By Anne Worrall

"Offending girls" offers a theoretical research of the discourse surrounding women's deviancy, according to in-depth interviews with probation officials, magistrates, solicitors, psychiatrists and feminine lawbreakers themselves.

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Fiona’s offence was committed in a group, most of whom were men. Her lenient sentence may well have reflected a feeling that, as the driver of the ‘getaway’ car, she had not been directly involved in the assault, but had been under the influence of her male companions. Ann and 46 FIFTEEN FEMALE LAW-BREAKERS Maureen were both perceived to be aggressive and unmanageable, but their behaviour was aggravated by the aggression and drinking of their husbands. Gwen, Linda, Veronica, and Ivy, on the other hand, were seen to be in need of supervision because they lacked male support (and, by implication, male control) (see Eaton 1987 on bail decisions relating to women in magistrates’ courts).

The measure was initially intended to be a direct ‘alternative to custody’ (that is, based on the assumption that it is possible to assess by some objective criteria that some offenders, if undiverted, will go to prison). The involvement of the Probation Service in such orders, however, made it inevitable that ‘through subsequent custom and practice, the order has come to be regarded as a sentence in its own right’ (Home Office 1986a:41). The inevitability of this process was due to the ineluctable commitment of traditional probation discourse to the rehabilitation of the offender through the personal influence of the probation officer, which made it difficult for officers to adapt to a role which might be concerned exclusively with the provision and supervision of work.

The use of identical vocabulary masks the significant difference of the ‘like-us-yetnot-like-us’ paradox that indefatigably confronts the magistracy. The role of the solicitor is to occupy that gap between the defendant’s account and the magistrates’ recognition of that account. The solicitor’s task is to negotiate the precise route whereby that gap is closed. It is a task which requires both skill and authority. Solicitors’ discourse claims its authority from the precision of the language of statute but ‘the general principles of English law are not to be found in the statute book’ (Burton and Carlen 1979:56).

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Offending women : female lawbreakers and the criminal justice system by Anne Worrall


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