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Professors analyze trends among female drug offenders

January 08, 2007

The illicit drug world has traditionally been perceived as a man’s domain with little research done on how women offenders behave. But soon-to-be-published research by two Arizona State University professors will offer a glimpse into female behavior in the drug community and the impact it has affected on our society.

Marie Griffin and Nancy Rodriguez jumped at the opportunity to analyze data collected by Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) surveys conducted at 32 locations around the country. Funding from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) supported their efforts. Griffin and Rodriguez are professors in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, College of Human Services at ASU's West campus.

“No one had looked at the differences between men and women in the drug trade. This was an opportunity to explore what has been seen as a masculine activity,” says Griffin, who has specialized her coursework in female offenders.

Rodriguez participated in the gathering of the ADAM data, interviewing men and women at sites in Phoenix and Tucson.  Her strong statistical expertise assured the greatest possible success in her collaboration with Griffin.

Their findings reveal that when all characteristics are equal, such as the communities in which these females operate, they employ different approaches when purchasing illegal drugs. For example, women are less likely than men to approach men in public to make a drug buy and are more likely to use sex to barter for illegal drugs.

“It’s similar to the role we would expect a woman to assume,” says Griffin, explaining that females also are more likely to make drug purchases through their personal networks rather than from a stranger.

The importance of the collaborative research by the two West campus professors is underscored by NIJ’s highly selective process – the ASU research is one of just five out of 150 submissions chosen for publication in the organization’s prestigious National Institute of Justice Journal. 

The research findings reflect the limited scope of women’s social contacts and also highlight the risk-reducing value of women’s personal networks. Reliance on individuals within one’s network of known purchasers or sellers allows for increased levels of trust and security among women, who are viewed as “easy targets” and are perceived as less likely to retaliate with violence if victimized or sold fake drugs, the researchers wrote.

Rodriguez notes the ADAM findings offer the first empirical data that explores actual behavior rather than simple statistics that center on who was arrested and why. During her research, she worked closely with students from ASU and the University of Arizona to conduct interviews of arrestees in Arizona. The subsequent information, gathered in a 24-page survey, was collected from 2000 through 2003, before funding for the national project was lost. Maricopa County is now considering renewing funds to renew the research Rodriguez and Griffin are conducting.

“It’s so important to find out what the behaviors were if we hope to target intervention,” reports Rodriguez.

Joining ASU faculty in 1998, Rodriguez also has researched sentencing policies, juvenile court processes and substance abuse. Her work has included program evaluations of drug courts, restorative justice programs, and three strikes laws. She also has conducted studies on the role of race/ethnicity and gender in juvenile court processes and worked on a statewide analysis of race/ethnicity and gender in Arizona’s juvenile court system.

Gender issues in the criminal world have been the focus of Griffin’s work since she came to ASU in 1997. Her early research involved self-identified drug offenders, conducted while also teaching a course in Women, Crime and Justice at the West campus.

She also has worked with researchers at Columbia University, focusing on the effects of criminal justice sanctions on developmental outcomes of youthful felony offenders. This research successfully served as an evaluator on various research projects with the Arizona Department of Corrections, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Maricopa County Adult Probation and the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

The two are honored that the National Institute of Justice has chosen to highlight their work on female drug behavior in its journal.

“The fact that NIJ selected our project is telling as to what impact it can have,” Rodriguez says. Using a Dean’s Incentive Grant, the two plan to continue working together on the female behavior characteristics revealed in the ADAM data.

“It’s such a classic example in the way colleagues could, and should, collaborate,” Griffin says.