Criminal Justice Section  


Criminal Justice Magazine
Spring 2001
Volume 16, Issue 1

Sentencing Women Offenders:
A Training Curriculum for Judges

By Hon. Carolyn Engel Temin

In recent years there has been increased attention paid to the issues surrounding women offenders in the criminal justice systems. One of the reasons for this, no doubt, is the 800 percent increase in the last 10 years in the number of incarcerated women. Historically, the woman offender has constituted such a small percentage of the total incarcerated population that this group is given very little attention. Although women offenders have now achieved technical equality with men, the fact that their individual needs are not being met means that, in fact, they have not achieved actual equality. Too many times women are treated as if they were men and are expected to conform to the same rules even when they are inappropriate. In order to remedy this, and to involve judges as community leaders in changing the way women offenders are treated in the system, the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) has published a curriculum devoted to the issue of sentencing women offenders.

The curriculum is designed specifically for judges, but can be adapted for use by multidisciplinary teams consisting of criminal justice officials, defense attorneys, and prosecutors. It was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC).

The curriculum is designed as a six-hour educational program that covers the following subjects:

(1) Why focus on women offenders;
(2) The present judicial response to the woman offender;
(3) Who are the women offenders;
(4) What programs exist in your jurisdiction for sanctioning the woman offender;
(5) Sanctioning the woman offender;
(6) What improvements need to be made in your jurisdiction for handling the woman offender.

The curriculum was designed to be individualized for each jurisdiction and experts from the NAWJ are available both for consultation and as participants.

The goals of the curriculum are (1) to provide an opportunity for judges to examine their own sentencing practices in relation to women offenders; (2) to encourage judges to become leaders in assessing sentencing practices in their jurisdictions; and (3) to encourage the continued development and refinement of more effective sentencing responses to women offenders.

In order to achieve these goals the curriculum provides an active learning experience focusing on the gender-specific risks and needs of women offenders, provides current information on national trends relating to women offenders, informs participants about specific programs available in their jurisdictions for women offenders, and creates a training atmosphere that fosters open exchange and exploration among the participants.

The curriculum is very structured and contains specific suggestions as to content, methods, time frames and learning objectives. It includes such things as participant handouts and overheads to assist in the presentation. It also contains specific instructions for both the facilitator and the presenter. The curriculum has been designed so that participants will come away with a better understanding of their own personal knowledge concerning women offenders, their own sentencing practices, and specific information that they can use in the future. Participants will also, hopefully, be encouraged to assume leadership positions for the purpose of improving the programs both within and outside of traditional correctional facilities for handling women offenders. It does not propose more lenient treatment of women offenders. It does suggest appropriate issues for consideration in sentencing women.

NAWJ hopes that within the next few years this curriculum will be presented in every jurisdiction in the United States. If you are interested in presenting the curriculum and would like assistance, please contact Judge Carolyn Engel Temin, chair of Project Development for the NAWJ, 1404 Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107; call (215) 683-7109; fax: (215) 683-7111; e-mail:

The curriculum itself is available at no charge and may be downloaded from the NIC website at Printed copies may be obtained by calling the NIC Information Center at (800) 877-1461.

Hon. Carolyn Engel Temin has been on the Court of Common Pleas for the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania for 18 years. She hears complex civil and criminal cases and is the principal author of the Pennsylvania Bench Book for Criminal Proceedings .

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