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Publication Date


First Advisor

Nancy Whittier

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Gender, Family, Criminal law, Social control, Social cost, Judicial paternalism, Family roles, Breadwinner, Caretaker, Family of orientation, Gender differences


In recent years, criminologists have increasingly paid attention to the role of family ties in criminal sentencing in the U.S. Scholars have primarily focused on the disproportionate judicial leniency granted to female defendants based on family circumstances, hence aiding the production of a “gender gap” in criminal sentencing. Despite greater scholarly emphasis on the treatment of family ties in criminal court, the family continues to be solely used to explain gender differences, and is rarely viewed as its own distinct, unique source of bias in criminal court. Through qualitative interviews with court officials and observations of sentencing and bail hearings, my research demonstrates that judges and defense attorneys evaluate criminal defendants through the lens of a heteronormative, normalized and institutionalized family ideal – an ideal that, in turn, shapes gendered expectations, roles and norms for criminal defendants. My research explores important intersections of gender and the family that have been neglected, such as the role of the family of orientation, the gendered division of labor in the family, and familybased perceptions of moral character. This research thus places explanations for the “gender gap” in criminal court in the context of the family and offers a new perspective on the relationship between gender and family in shaping judicial decision-making.


©2019 Katharina Geppert. Access limited to the Smith College community and other researchers while on campus. Smith College community members also may access from off-campus using a Smith College log-in. Other off-campus researchers may request a copy through Interlibrary Loan for personal use.




130 pages. Includes bibliographical references (pages 123-130)