Double Standards and Inequality in Criminal Justice System
Frequently feminists and other social activist mention that they are fighting for “equality”, but unless you listen to them carefully, no one can really gather what do all of they mean by it. Even though all of us understand the term, when you start to think about it, it’s not self-explanatory, when a feminist mentions “equality”.
What kind of measurement do we use? Do we want to work in quarries (it’s one of the first arguments I always hear when I mention that I am feminist and I fight for equality)? Do we want to be treated like one of the guys? Do we want to have masculine jobs?
The answer is yes and no.
It’s not about what I want or what any other feminist wants, for that matter. It’s all about a choice. And to be fully capable to make that choice.
However, today’s post is not about choice for equality. Is about double standards and inequality.
Double standards, you ask? Where, when? What’s a big deal? Well, in some cases it’s serious. In others it’s just annoying.
I have a background in criminology and so I will give examples from this area of study. As I know more reliable sources for UK criminal statistics, it will be easier for me to base my argument on UK case.
Generally, not many women commit crime. Most of them are non-violent. Majority of crimes are property crimes, with shoplifting being the most popular. So nothing dangerous here. Many reasons for committing a crime is self-medication or drug use. Even the violent crimes are not as violent and as serious as those committed by men.
Furthermore, 80% of women’s criminal carrier stops within a year from an onset (compared to 50% of men). Apparently we are not a really good criminal material. But the female prison population has been rising over the past couple of years. And you know why? Women are being punished for acting against their assigned gender roles, i.e. they are not doing what women are supposed to be doing.
Bullshit, you say. They are being sent to prison, because they committed a crime. They are becoming more violent, they binge drink, they join gangs, they use drugs and are behaving more and more disorderly.
The truth is that violence is more accepted when it’s committed by men. We are socialised with the notion that men have to be violent in order to express their masculinity. Strength and power (sounds almost like signal from Gladiator…) is valued above anything else. Women are destined to be carers, with well-developed maternal instincts and their main focus should be on domestic sphere. When they are failing as mothers, as carers, their feminine responsibilities, the societal defensive response kicks in and calls for a punishment. Hence the more severe sentences.
Probably I won’t convince you without a solid proof, so let me quote you some statistics. Within 11 years (1997-2008) the seriousness of female offences rose only by marginal percentage or during some years remained static (the percentage of women convicted of indictable offences rose from 10% to 14% between 1996-2010), but the number of females in custody rose by as much as 68%. You know how much male prison population rose? 35%. Not to mention the fact that ¼ of women in prison had no previous convictions, while only 12% of men could say the same (data from 2012).
That’s not all. Also the number of women, who entered prison on remand awaiting trial rose by 22% (2004-2008). All of those women spent on average four to six weeks in prison, but only 40% of them received a custodial sentence after trial. And on average 1 in 5 of those women get acquitted. So let’s sum up those facts: 20% of women got punished when they were innocent, others were locked up for committing minor offences, but 4/5 of them, in addition to those weeks spend in prison, received additional punishment (either custodial or community service order).
Women, who got involved with criminal justice systems are doomed by their life. Like Emily Bronte doomed, like Shakespeare doomed, like red-shirted ensign in “Star Trek” doomed.
- Over half the women in prison say they have suffered domestic violence and one in three has experienced sexual abuse.
- 78% exhibited some level of psychological disturbance during the assessment at the admission to prison (the number for general female population is 15%).
- 37% of female prisoners attempted to commit suicide sometime during their life. And despite representing only 5% of total prison population, women accounted for almost 50% of all self-harm incidents in prison.
- 1/5 of women in prison who are mothers, are single parents (comparing to 9% of single mothers in total population).
I could go on forever about this. So I will stop now.
If the offending didn’t change and not so many more women committed crime than what changed? Well, attitude towards women committing crimes did. Nothing more.
Now UK and many other countries decided to reduce the female imprisonment, so there is some hope for improvement. But can you imagine what is happening in countries where women have inherently less rights than men? Without a lack of access to legal assistance? What kind of rights violations, exploitations, mistreatment do they suffer?
I could go on for ages about sexist attitudes, explain the underlying benevolent or hostile sexist mechanisms, but I don’t want to bore you to death with academic and/or feminist rambling. And it might not be relevant at all. But now it’s your turn: tell me, why are numbers in women in prison rising when the severity and frequency of their crimes isn’t? And knowing their backgrounds, why hasn’t been/aren’t they helped instead of being punished? It begs the question, what they are really being punished for?
They are being more severely punished first and foremost for not following the assigned female gender roles. As they are more frequently failing their femininity but acting in contradiction to those gender roles, they need to be contained and proven that they are a failure. There is nothing more to it.
Do you believe me now?
Carol Hedderman (2011) 'Policy Developments in England and Wales' in R. Sheehan, G. McIvor and C. Trotter, Working with Women Offenders in the Community, Willan Publishing: Oxon.
Written by Vespertilio