University of Leicester
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Gender, crime and discretion in the English criminal justice system, 1780s to 1830s

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posted on 2014-12-15, 10:41 authored by Deirdre E. P. Palk
Historians of English crime and criminal justice agree that females are more leniently treated by the criminal justice system. Fewer females are prosecuted for unlawful activities, and, when they are, they are more readily acquitted, or receive lighter sentences than males. However, reasons for this remain elusive. References to the paternalism of those involved in the system, together with notions about masculinity and femininity in a patriarchally ordered society, have been offered in the absence of other more focused and systematic evidence.;This thesis follows a systematic enquiry about three crimes which attributed the death sentence - shoplifting, pickpocketing, and uttering forged Bank of England notes. The period of the study covers the 1780s to the 1830s, and is centred on London and Middlesex. It considers involvement in each crime by gender. The approach seeks to avoid the over-generalisation resulting from synthesis of statistics for a wide variety of offences, and to allow a clearer view of how men and women operated in committing offences. This systematic approach follows the offenders involved in the three crimes through the criminal justice system, so far as it is possible to do so, since the public trial and sentencing at the Old Bailey were not the end of the decision-making story. Previous studies have largely neglected to follow-through to the stage of commutation of sentences and pardons where influences on the decision-makers differed from those on decision-makers at earlier stages of the system.;In particular, this thesis focuses on the gendered context of the specific behaviour of male and female offenders in the selected offences, on the effects of a patriarchal system of justice, and on the needs of the State to make political decisions about the disposal of offenders.


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University of Leicester

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  • Doctoral

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  • PhD



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