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Lancaster experiences rise in crime by women

May 13, 2009
LANCASTER — The number of women committing crimes in Lancaster was up sharply last year. In his annual report to the town, Police Chief John Gardiner reported that 61 people arrested in this small town last year were women. That number represents a 70 percent increase over the 37 women arrested in 2007.

Chief Gardiner illustrated in his report that while overall arrests in general are up from 141 (31 women) in 2006, to 187 in 2008, women are accounting for a large portion of the increase. The female offender made up just under 22 percent of the 2006 figure. That number had climbed to nearly 33 percent by the end of 2008. The trend may have leveled out if preliminary figures for 2009 hold. According to the arrests reported weekly in this paper, so far this year female arrests have made up only 25 percent.

While Lancaster saw a spike last year in female arrests, other towns have not had the same experience. Whitefield's female arrests stayed flat at 19 from 2007 into 2008. Deputy Police Chief Brian Valerino of Berlin said there has been little change in the arrests of women in that city in recent years. Berlin Police arrested 164 women in 2007 and 170 in 2008 — an increase of just over three percent. The types of crimes committed by women in the city were varied, covering everything males get arrested for, but on a lesser scale, Deputy Chief Valerino said.

Chief Gardiner said that of the female offenders arrested in Lancaster last year 17 were cited for actual drug and alcohol offenses. That number does not reflect the true role drugs and alcohol plays in the crime rate however. Chief Gardiner said that many of the assault, disorderly conduct and vandalism offenses — which, added to the drug and alcohol offenses, totaled 29 — were likely committed by those under the influence. "No doubt in my mind or anyone else's that a lot of this is fueled by alcohol and drugs," he said.

Despite the static numbers in other local areas, the Lancaster figures reflect a rise in female crime statewide according to the NH Women's Policy Institute. A report by that agency published in December 2008 called "Women Behind Bars" looks at the trend of female incarceration statewide and notes a 24 percent increase for female admissions to the county houses of corrections between 2003 and 2007. "Admissions to the State Prison for Women increased by 64 percent during the same time period," according to the report. The study projects a continued a continued increase in the number of women in New Hampshire incarcerated through 2012.

While misdemeanor arrests rose in Lancaster, felony charges against women across Cos County appeared to have stayed level, or possibly dropped from 2007 to 2008. It is common practice locally for felony charges to be brought forward for indictment and local agencies seldom make felony arrests prior the matter being heard by a Grand Jury. While exact figures are not available, a review of the monthly published indictment reports from 2007 show 29 women charged, mainly with drug and theft offenses. A review of the same reports for 2008 revealed only 25 women indicted on felony charges, and again various forms of theft and drug offenses were the predominate charges.

The NH Women's Policy Institute cites system gaps like lack of education, abusive relationships, lack of affordable housing, child-care and transportation as barriers to lowering the female incarceration rate in the state. "There are few places in the state where the kind of comprehensive, transitional supports found to be effective in other states are available in New Hampshire," the report says.

Chief Gardiner said he doesn't know what caused the spike in female crime last year, but points to the study's conclusion that social issues need to be addressed before the problem will get better.

Martin Lord & Osman
Town & Country
Coos County Commissioners
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