Critically examine the criminal justice process to identify both discriminatory practice and good practice in the area of gender. This essay will identify good and discriminatory practices throughout the criminal justice system with specific reference to gender and identify circumstances and research evidence that shows the unequal treatment (both discriminatory and favourable) of men or women. Possible reasons for any inequality will be discussed and references to existing theories and past research will be made.
Details of rates and patterns of offending between males and females will be included to illustrate the extent to which unequal treatment is afforded to males or females. A brief overview of the theories of gender inequality will be included, drawing on feminism, the late 19th century research of Lombroso and Ferrero, the chivalry hypothesis, the 2002 report 'Statistics on women in the criminal justice system' and an examination of the four key elements involved when discussing women offenders and the reasons behind differing treatment of them.
It is evident even in the initial stages of this essay that a gender bias has appeared. When discussing gender, it becomes apparent that women are discussed in reference to men, including offending rates, conviction rates and patterns and inequalities, rather than visa versa or women being discussed independently of men. Discussions into the chivalry hypothesis, the feminist critique and gender blindness have occurred for decades and attempt to establish and understand reasons why women offenders appear to receive preferential treatment and suggest ways to readdress this imbalance, which will be discussed in more depth later.
The trends do not solely favour women however, examples of harsher treatment in the criminal justice system are also present, including the facts that more women are given immediate custodial sentences and that more women are held in prison on remand (Heidensohn 1985). The practices within the criminal justice system can also have an effect on the offender in society; the social stigma of a criminal conviction varies between the genders with women being viewed as damaged goods and being viewed more negatively than men.
Heidensohn (1996) summarised certain female trends and patterns of criminality as compared with males and concluded that: 1. Women commit a small share of all crimes; 2. Their crimes are fewer, less serious, more rarely professional, and less likely to be repeated; 3. In consequence, women formed a small percentage of the prison population. Since the recording of crimes began, a criminal offenders sex has always been noted. However, the gender of offenders was of little importance with most researchers ignoring females, and theories formulated did not take women into account.
Throughout history, there have been examples of women receiving unequal treatment over men in all aspects of criminal justice including policy. In most western countries at some point male homosexuality has been deemed illegal whilst lesbianism has not. Trends like this one can be observed throughout legal history and show a general trend of women receiving more leniencies in the criminal justice system. There is no monopoly on leniency afforded to women offenders; women also suffer some discriminatory practices.
The processes utilised in the criminal justice system, by the system itself and those who work in it has caused in some areas a gender subordination, women are viewed as 'troubled' rather than 'troublesome' which can be seen to remove power from the individual as well as the gender as a whole; women offenders are sugar-coated and perceived less in control of their actions and decisions and more a social product which is faulty and in need of care and repair rather than punishment.
However, if punishment is administered the social recourse is harsher for women than for men. Women begin to lose their identity and can go from mother to offender to ex-convict. A problem within the criminal justice system in all areas of difference between offenders (gender, ethnicity, age) is that comparisons are always drawn to other groups and their offending rates and patterns.
This can provide some comparative data on offending rates, but it can also have a dilution effect on criminality. Women offend and are prosecuted considerably less than men, and as such any comparisons drawn between the genders could have one of two effects; either the men are perceived as having disproportionately high rates of offending, or the information has a dulling effect on women's offending, reducing the severity of any statistics as they are massively overshadowed by men's offending.
In the latter stages of the 20th century, offending patterns began to significantly change between the genders. Men's offending continues to be much greater in numbers, but women's increase in offending is much greater. Women's offending patterns have remained similar, with the addition of offences involving drugs.