Date of Award

Fall 2005

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Chemistry & Biochemistry


Applied Sociology

Committee Director

James A. Nolan

Committee Member

Garland White

Committee Member

Ruth Triplett

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.S62 S656 2005


This study evaluated the relationship between gender and sentencing severity for defendants convicted of violent crimes, victimless crimes, and theft crimes in Norfolk Circuit Court during 2001 and 2002. Based upon social control theories, the author hypothesized that women receive harsher penalties than men for violent crimes and victimless crimes, but that men receive harsher penalties for theft crimes. To test these hypotheses, the author relied, in part, upon data collected by the Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney's office on 3368 criminal cases filed in 2001 and concluded by May 22, 2002. After eliminating cases not pertinent to the study, the data set included 251 violent crimes, 261 victimless crimes, and 502 theft crimes. The author obtained sentence length and sentencing guideline information on these cases directly from the court files. Three different measures of sentence severity were used: sentence type, sentence length, and guideline compliance, with guideline compliance considered the most accurate measure because of the built-in controls for criminal history and offense severity. Age, race, method of adjudication, attorney type, and judge were the control variables. Using ANOVA, cross-tabulations, and multiple regression analysis, the results supported the hypothesis that women receive harsher punishment for victimless crimes, but did not support the other two hypotheses. Women, on average, received substantially shorter sentences than men convicted of violent crime, but the guideline compliance scores did not reveal any statistically significant difference in sentence severity for men and women convicted of violent crime. Men received longer jail sentences than women for theft crimes, but guideline compliance scores did not reveal a statistically significant difference in sentence severity between men and women except when controlled for race; then, women received harsher penalties than similarly situated men. Further research is recommended on the interaction between race and gender, and policy makers may need to revise guidelines to include relative culpability, parenting responsibility, and pregnancy, if these factors are deemed legitimate sentencing considerations.


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