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State of the Criminal Justice System Dashboard

Women and the Criminal Justice System

Understanding how different groups of people experience crime—as both victims and offenders—is critical to a fair, effective, and efficient criminal justice system. One way that society groups people is by gender. A long history of research shows that women and men are impacted differently by crime, and engage differently with the criminal justice system. While men continue to make up the majority of those accused, convicted and incarcerated of violent crime, the rate of violent victimization is higher among women than men. Although data for gender-diverse people is limited, research has pointed to high prevalence of victimization among this population as well.Footnote 1 Certain violent crimes, including sexual assault, intimate partner violence and domestic homicide, are particularly gendered, with women making up the vast majority of victims and survivors and men overwhelmingly the perpetrators.Footnote 2

When women engage in crime, they tend to become involved for different reasons than men, are accused and convicted of less serious crimes, and are less likely to be incarcerated.Footnote 3 However, many correctional programs are based on research conducted with men, given that women make up a relatively small proportion of the incarcerated population.Footnote 4 Targeting interventions to prevent crime, and developing policies aimed at the fair and rehabilitative treatment of offenders, requires assessing how women become involved in crime, and how their needs can be best addressed when in custody. This is all the more important given that women make up a growing share of those incarcerated in Canada’s prisons and jails.Footnote 5

When navigating the Women’s theme pages, it is important to consider that whether and how people interact with the criminal justice system is influenced by more than gender. Other personal and social factors interact and layer on top of each other to produce a multitude of different lived realties among women. Some of these differences are explored in the Women’s theme pages, and others will be added to the Dashboard’s Gender-based Analysis Plus pages as new data become available and make additional analysis possible.

The following three sections of the Dashboard provide a non-exhaustive overview of academic literature, government studies, and reports by commissions and inquiries that have looked into the experiences of women with the Canadian criminal justice system as victims and survivors of crime, and as accused and offenders. This includes an examination of the unique experiences of Indigenous women and girls. For additional information and a summary of some of the literature, click on the links below or click on the Studies link at the bottom of the page.

Addressing the Unique Risks and Needs of Women in the Criminal Justice System

Several governmental, legislative milestones and federal programs have addressed the unique risks and needs of women in the criminal justice system. Some of these milestones and programs are included in the links below:

For related studies and resources, please click on the link above.

Click on the link above to learn how to share your study on the unique rights, needs or experiences of women interacting with the criminal justice system.