Female Offenders: Understanding Their Pathway to Drug Offending

The increasing number of female offenders with drug antecedents has prompted correctional agencies to expand research on their drug offending behaviour. The present study sought to understand the key factors behind the drug offending behaviours of 21 female offenders under the custody of the Singapore Prison Service (SPS)through the various stages of initiation, maintenance, abstinence, and relapse.

Qualitative data was analysed for themes using the inductive approach and four key themes emerged: using drugs out of curiosity, using drugs as a coping mechanism, using drugs for enhancement purposes, and using drugs to bolster intimate relationships. Majority of the participants reported that curiosity was a major trigger for initiating drug use. In particular, they were curious about the drug-taking sensations and wanting to know if they would become addicted. After prolonged usage, many began to take drugs to cope with issues such as negative emotions and withdrawals.

The themes on enhancement and intimate relationships were salient across the drug-taking stages. Specifically, many reported taking drugs for physical enhancements, improving self-confidence, and increasing peer acceptance. Drug-taking also helped with promoting greater intimacy with their partners, alleviating emotional dysregulation from their relationships, and coping with relationship stressors. In terms of short-term abstinence, familial support, deterrence factors such as risk of arrest, and having their time occupied were commonly cited as factors that prevented a relapse into drug use. Figure 1 shows a summary of the findings.

Consistent with the relational theory on female behaviour, the present study highlights the importance of intimate relationships and familial support in their drug-taking behaviour. As such, correctional agencies should incorporate gender-specific interventions in areas such as relationship management, into gender-neutral approaches.

The present study provides a better understanding of female offenders’ pathway to drug offending in Singapore. As compared to quantitative methods which often lack depth, the study was able to understand the participants’ drug-taking experiences in greater and richer details through qualitative interviews.

Authors: Loh Eng Hao; Doris Chia; Dr. Jasmin Kaur; Dr. Gabriel Ong, Singapore Prison Service, Correctional Research Branch

The views expressed in this write-up are the authors’ only and do not necessarily represent any official view of the Singapore Prison Service or the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore.