Girls Gone Bad: Women, Crime, and Criminal Justice

Annette Nierobisz
Carleton College


Recent media accounts suggest that female involvement in crime is increasing dramatically but what do the data show? Girls Gone Bad investigates this question in addition to other specific topics involving female criminality. In the process, students will acquire a broad set of quantitative reasoning skills that will equip them to question taken-for-granted assumptions about crime and criminality.

Course Size:


Institution Type:
Private four-year institution

Course Context:

Girls Gone Bad is a 200-level course designed for the Sociology and Anthropology Department; the course will likely also be appealing to students in the American Studies and Women and Gender Studies Programs. Girls Gone Bad is aimed at freshmen and sophomores, and students are not expected to have a background in Sociology. Students who enroll in the course will receive credits toward our social inquiry and quantitative reasoning graduation requirements.

Course Content:

The course is constructed around a series of topics embedded in criminological scholarship on female offenders. We begin by examining male and female crime rates and proceed to examining issues such as female gangs, female runaways, and female involvement in the drug trade. This is followed by an examination of general theoretical perspectives on crime and more specific theories of female criminality. We then examine the role gender plays in sentencing decisions. The course concludes with an examination of women's experiences of imprisonment and the factors that predict desistance from crime.

Course Goals:

In addition to learning about women and crime, students will learn how to locate criminological data, and to recognize the various limitations inherent within these data. Students will also be able to formulate effective research questions and design a feasible research study, and they will gain experience interpreting statistical evidence and communicating research findings to a larger audience. By the end of the course, students will be able to use numbers to make effective arguments and be better equipped to question taken-for-granted assumptions present in criminological theories and public policy responses to crime.

Course Features:

Given that women are the outliers in criminal offending yet contemporary media accounts suggest that female rates of crime are increasing at an alarming rate, the topic of "women and crime" is an excellent vehicle for teaching quantitative reasoning skills. Some of the QuIRK questions we explore through in-class lectures, discussions, small group work, and class assignments include: What do the numbers show? How representative is that? Compared to what? Are the results those of a single study or of a literature? How was the variable operationalized?

Course Philosophy:

Girls Gone Bad is designed to take advantage of two factors. First, I have developed other Criminology courses for Carleton College that have been popular with students. Given the preponderance of crime stories and crime dramas in our popular media, it's not particularly surprising that students are eager to learn more about crime and criminal offending. Second, the field of Criminology is highly quantitative in its orientation, which naturally creates opportunities for quantitative reasoning discussions. Given my past experiences with teaching QRE courses, Girls Gone Bad does not assume that students will have much experience with writing and thinking about numbers. As a 200-level course, it's been designed to provide multiple opportunities for reflection and in-depth discussion of issues related to quantitative literacy.


Students will be assessed by their performance on two assignments, a mid-term test, a book chapter presentation, and class participation.


(File is unavailable. Contact professor)

Teaching Materials:

(File is unavailable. Contact professor)

References and Notes:

Chesney-Lind, Meda and Lisa Pasko. 2004. The Female Offender: Girls, Women and Crime, 2nd Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Gottfredson, Michael R. and Travis Hirschi. 1990. A General Theory of Crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kruttschnitt, Candace and Rosemary Gartner. 2005. Marking Time in the Golden State: Women's Imprisonment in California. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hagan, John, John H. Simpson and A.R. Gillis. 1979. "The Sexual Stratification of Social Control: A Gender-Based Perspective on Crime and Delinquency." The British Journal of Sociology, 30(1): 25-38.

Miller, Jody. 2001. One of the Guys: Girls, Gangs, and Gender. New York: Oxford University Press.

Steffensmeier, Darrel and Jennifer Schwartz. 2009. "Trends in Girls' Delinquency and the Gender Gap." Pp. 50-83 in Margaret Zahn (ed.), The Delinquent Girl. Philadelphia: Temple University Press (e-reserve).

Steffensmeier, Darrel and Emilie Allan. 1996. "Gender and Crime: Toward a Gendered Theory of Female Offending." Annual Review of Sociology 22: 459-487.