In the community
The latest Criminal Statistics would suggest that there may still be differential sentencing in relation to community penalties whereby girls receive more regulatory, and fewer practical, penalties. The overall figures for under-18 year olds in 2003 reveal that 12 per cent of total convictions at the Crown Court are in relation to girls and young women, but the proportion given supervisory sentences is higher than this, whilst the proportion is lower for other community sentences. For example, only 18 community punishment (previously community service) orders (10 per cent of the total imposed on girls and boys) and no reparation orders were imposed on girls or young women in 2003, but they received 78 supervision orders (18 per cent of the total) and 17 community rehabilitation (previously probation) orders (17 per cent of the total).
The Ofsted report noted above included a variety of negative comments on the community part of a sentence of detention and training made by the girls surveyed. For example, they said that some community projects were too ‘risky’ for them and they criticised the standard of resettlement support. As Carlen has pointed out, it is difficult to establish and maintain community projects designed for girls and women, ostensibly because of funding problems that mask other shortcomings such as non-use by the courts. This results in pressure to extend the projects to men to avoid closure, so that survival requires ring-fenced funding and excellent public relations.
There is also potential gender discrimination arising from the increasing importance given to restorative justice in community programmes in the youth justice system. Below is an extract from government guidance on examples of suitable content for reparation orders.
• A 15 year old boy is found guilty of daubing graffiti on the walls of a newsagent’s shop. He is sentenced to a reparation order which, with the agreement of the newsagent, requires the offender to clean the graffiti from the walls, and to spend one hour under supervision every Saturday morning for two months helping the newsagent to sort out his stock.
• A 12 year old girl is found guilty of vandalising an elderly lady’s garden and shouting abusive language at her. She is sentenced to a reparation order which requires her, with the victim’s agreement, to meet the victim in order to hear her describe the effect that this behaviour has had on her, and to allow the offender to explain why she has behaved in this way, and to apologise. This meeting might be arranged and supervised by a local voluntary organisation working with victims and offenders, in support of the youth offending team.
• A 16 year old boy has caused damage to a local children’s playground. The court
sentences him to a reparation order. As there is no obvious, specific victim in this case, the reparation is designed to benefit the community at large, many of whom use the playground; the offender is required to spend one hour every weekend under supervision helping to repair the damage that he has caused.
• A 14 year old boy is found guilty of damaging the greenhouse of an elderly man. The victim wants no further contact with the offender, but the court feels that some form of reparation activity would be appropriate. The offender is therefore required to spend two hours per week under supervision assisting the gardener at the local old people’s home.
In these examples, the three boys were given practical reparation, the girl met her victim to apologise and, it was hoped, to feel remorse at the effects of her offending. The crucial variable here could have been age, with 14 being seen as a minimum age for gardening. Nevertheless, the choice of examples is intriguing, as are the summaries below of two of the case studies included in the government’s Restorative Justice Consultation Paper.
Case study 02 ‘A 28 year old man was assaulted by a group of 11 youths, four of whom were girls aged 14-16 . . . The four girls were all given referral orders.’ A video was made of the first Panel meeting with the victim and this was shown to the others: ‘both the victim and the attacker were visibly moved’. One of the girls went on to do a peer mentoring course and became a peer mentor for the youth offending team.
Case study 05 The ‘offender’ was serving a four and a half-year custodial sentence. ‘During the restorative conference one of the offender’s supporters was her grandmother’, who was ‘appalled’ at what she heard. The offender was ‘overwhelmed with remorse’ at this. ‘By the end the victim said her view of the offender had changed from a monster to a broken little girl.’
This is not to make the point that boys in the case studies were never remorseful; simply to draw attention to the choice of examples and the tone of the narratives. They serve to emphasise how little is known about the gender implications of these new processes, and how gender could be operating differentially without proper monitoring. Alder has pointed out that what we know about the greater intolerance by the public of offending and anti-social behaviour by girls, and different social expectations of girls, must be taken into account when developing programmes for girls. Girls may be more likely to feel shame and guilt, and restorative programmes should not endorse the continuance of shame as a tool to control women. They should also be aware of the ‘delicate balance between exhibiting contrition and remorse, and feelings of guilt and self-blame and self-harm.’