Date of Award


Publication Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name



Social Work

First Advisor

Dietz, M. L.


Sociology, Criminology and Penology.




This research examines the considerations judges include in the sentencing of women offenders. In particular, I look at the way the sentencing of women lawbreakers incorporates traditional constructions of femininity. Using a feminist criminological approach, various sentencing strategies were identified in terms of the way in which judges explain women's criminal behaviour and construct motherhood relative to women lawbreakers. These sentencing strategies or judge types are: traditional judges, judges who construct criminal women as "bad" mothers, judges who view motherhood as a non-factor and the "new judges," who attempt to sensitize sentencing to the experiences of women. This research finds the majority of judges as incorporating traditional standards of femininity into sentencing decisions. These social constructions place women offenders in jeopardy of being judged on their failure to conform to a "female ideal." Women who are viewed as conforming to these definitions may receive leniency within the court. Sentencing from this perspective fails to account for the experiences of the majority of women lawbreakers. This research was conducted within three cities in Ontario. The methodology consisted of interviews with twenty sentencing judges and court observations. Absent in the existing literature is a qualitative analysis of the considerations incorporated into the sentencing of women and descriptions of the ways in which motherhood shapes sentencing decisions. Also absent is the recognition of a variation in sentencing strategies among sentencing judges. This study thereby provides a more in-depth look into the sentencing of women lawbreakers. Data analysis focuses specifically on examining judicial explanations of women's criminal behaviour and the way motherhood is incorporated into sentencing decisions. These will be shown to be the most important considerations in the sentencing of women in conflict with the law.Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology. Paper copy at Leddy Library: Theses & Major Papers - Basement, West Bldg. / Call Number: Thesis1995 .K38. Source: Masters Abstracts International, Volume: 34-06, page: 2252. Adviser: Mary Lorenz Dietz. Thesis (M.A.)--University of Windsor (Canada), 1995.