DISPARITIES IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

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Introduction 

In the criminal justice system, three institutions are involved from when a case is process from the beginning, through trial and to when punishment will be given. The criminal justice system comprise of law enforcement which begins a case by investigating a crime and gather evidence. From the law enforcement officials, the case continues with the court system where evidence presented are weight to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not. The correction system is then used to punish and correct the behaviors of offenders. Starr, (2014) defines criminal justice as a system use to detect crime, detain, tried and punish offenders of the law.  The criminal justice system seeks to control crime, minimize and impose penalties for all persons who commit crime without favor. Sometimes there are disparities in the criminal justice system that treat female offenders differently than male offenders. According to Heidnsohn, (2013) criminal justice disparity occurs when the system show inequality in the sentence given to criminals rather than using a legitimate discretion in applying the law. The objective of this article is to determine the disparity in criminal justice system where female criminals are treated differently than their male counterparts. The article will illustrate the place of the law on gender disparity, common perception about gender disparity in criminal justice system and the position on literature on gender disparities in the criminal justice system.

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The place of the law on gender disparity 

Neubauer & Fradella, (2015) explained that when the criminal justice system is effective, there should be equal right that guarantee that both men and women will have equal opportunities in every aspect of life so that there will not be any form of systematic discrimination against one gender especially the women.  Even though gender inequality has reduced in the United State of America since 1900, issues including discrimination in women’s political participation and others like segregation in occupation still persist in the country (Saperstein, Penner, et al, 2014). The criminal justice law acts for equality in all issues of gender and it includes the right of every individual or gender to fair trial. In the United States, various laws on women’s suffrage were amended. For instance, in August 18, 1920, the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to include women’s right to express their opinion and vote as citizens (Rehavi & Starr, 2014). Another law was passed to circumvent the discrimination that women suffered considerably at the workplace. Toch & Maguire, (2014) mentioned that the President’s Commission on the State of Women which was started in 1961 passed an act called the Equal Pay Act. The act was passed to end the discrimination that women suffered at the workplace in terms of salaries. 

Common perception about gender disparity in criminal justice system 

There are various perceptions about gender disparity in criminal justice system in the United States. Some public perceptions are that women are treated leniently in the criminal justice system in the United State than their male counterparts. People who think women are treated leniently holds the view that women are considered to be weaker sex who cannot go through the conditions and harsh treatment that men go through. Comparing the physical strength of a woman to that of a man, the women are at a disadvantage. In a study comparing the number of individuals affected by conditions such as bones, muscles and heart, it was realized that women are weaker sex that men. According to Justice & Meares, (2014), a research conducted by an exercise physiologist suggests that men generally have bigger and stronger muscle than women. Considering the physical strength of women and men, the criminal justice law will be too magnanimous towards woman for equivalent offenses committed as women are more likely to be sent to correctional homes than men.  In instances where they are even convicted for an offence and sent to prison, women are more likely to serve shorter sentences than a male who is convicted for the same offence (Koons-Witt, Sevigny, et al, 2014).

Another public perception about gender disparity in criminal justice system in the United States is that women are treated harshly because they are demonized for their involvement in crime that brings a disgrace to womanhood. In the view of most people, certain crimes are not for women so once they do, they are given harsh treatment even by the law enforcement and court. According to Peck, Leiber, et al, (2014), a research conducted suggest that the percentage of women convicted for non-violent offences such as shoplifting, protecting criminal or handling stolen goods are higher than a male who commits the same offence. In research, 81 percent of women who commit such offence were imprisoned for a considerable number of months as compared to 70 percent of men who committed the same offence. Many people hold the perception that women’s crime is different from that of the men which implies that women commit more of non-violent crime than men and so when women are found to be involved in committing violent crime they are treated harshly because of the diabolic nature of the crime.

Position on literature on gender disparities in the criminal justice system 

Most people think that there is disparity in the criminal justice system because of three main factors. One of the factors is attributed to the fact that higher proportion of women receives caution even for serious offences. For some years, women who were arrested for some form of offences have increased considerably with a higher proportion of women involved in fraud, forgery, theft and handling. The research showed that about 16 percent of those arrested were notifiable offences whiles 27 percent were offences such as fraud and forgery. Theft and handling crimes recorded 22 percent. The research further suggest that of all the arrest made which involved women, they are more likely to be cautioned than their male counterpart who were involved in such crimes (Worral, 2014). Besides being cautioned, they are also more likely that their cases will be classified as ‘No Further Action” (Cox, 2016). The reason why women are mostly cautioned for an offence committed even if it is serious it that, women are considered to admit their offences and they are mostly arrested for less serious offences than men who are considered not to admit their offence and mostly arrested for grievous offences (Fagan & Lindsey, 2014). For this reason people have the perception that when it comes to the sentencing for an offence committed, women are more like to be considered than their male counterpart.

 Another reason why others think that there is disparity in the criminal justice system is the perception that fewer proportion of women are less likely to be remanded than men for equivalent offence. People who are alleged of committing various offences are remanded into prison custody before and during their trial. The remand sentence is given by the court on criminal charges. When an alleged offender is remanded into prison custody, it is to ensure that the offender will attend all the trials. Mostly, the time that an alleged offender spends in prison custody vary widely depending on the severity of the crime and the time taken to prepare evidence for trial (Chasney-Lind & Pasko, 2013). Before alleged offenders are remanded by a court of jurisdiction, Neubaur & Fradella, (2015) mentioned that such offenders might have not applied for bail, have been refused bail because of the gravity of the offence, cannot meet bail or provide a surety or they are not able to meet the condition spelt out in the bail bond. According to Seperstein, et al, (2014), women are most associated with crimes such as theft from shops, handling stolen goods or motor offences. Most of these crimes are not severe and do not qualify them to be remanded in prison custody. Those who are found of committing sophisticated crimes like fraud, robbery and burglary of all kinds are mostly not remanded because they are able to meet the bail terms and also due to natural phenomena such as pregnant and nursing women.

Finally, people think that there is disparity in the criminal justice system because of the differences in the sentences given to women and men. The perception of the public is that the sentences given to both parties for the same type of crime are not the same. The public think that women are less likely to be given lesser years imprisonment than the men for equivalent offences. According to Rehavi & Starr, (2014), the sentence that men receive for an offence is 63 percent higher on the average than their female counterpart.  Women are also more likely to avoid charges and conviction entirely and a number of reasons may account for why women in general are given lesser sentences. In Toch & Maguire, (2014) view, imprisoning a woman can have a negative effect on her family and herself and most judges treats women more leniently in their convictions for the some practical reasons including their caretaking responsibility.  Another reason for the difference in the sentences given to women and men is based on whether the offender has previous criminal records or not. On the average 53.9 percent of women are less likely to have previous criminal records as against 38.2 percent for men (Peck, Leiber, et al, 2014). On the count of this and other factors, women are more likely to be given shorter sentences or released on good behavior.  Again, men are seen to commit more serious crime than women and for that reason women are given shorter sentences than men. In comparing the crime rate of men to women, men predominated in crimes such as assault, sex offences and burglary. 11.8% men committed assault as against 7.5% of women and 18.5% men committed sex offences as against 3.5% (Clinard, et al, 2014).

 

Factors that influence perception of gender disparities 

Female to Male Crime Rate Ratio

There is evidence to support the perception that women are less likely to commit crime than the men. This is because they are hardly seen being trailed and people’s perception is that crime that involved women are covered. When a comparison is made based on the criminal justice system, it is realized that males tend to be more involved in crime and they are convicted for the offence than women found at committing such crimes. There are more men sentenced to prison for murder as compared to women who are in prison for same offence. According to Koons-Witt, et al, (2014) women who kill are mostly found to have done that out of anger but rather men tend to become serial killers. 

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Statistics from 2016 showed a record of 4 percent of male homicide victims who were killed by their current or former female partners as compared to 42 percent of female homicide victims who were killed by their current of former male partners. In Worrall, (2014) view, women commit less crime than men and this has been historically proven. Another research conducted in 2016 to compare females to male offenders who were found guilty or cautioned by the court on some offences like criminal damages, robbery, burglary, fraud and others indicated a high ratio of male offenders who were either convicted or cautioned. For instance, the ratio of men to women on crimes like burglary showed 14.0 for men and 1.0 for women, robbery showed 8.1 for men and 1.0 for women. The criminal statistics on these crimes showed 19% of crime committed by female offenders (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2013).

Extent of crime committed

Conviction of criminals for offences like drug offences, robbery and wounding which are normally associated with violence, men tend to be more involved than women convicted for the same offence (Fagan & Lindsey, 2014). The nature of these crimes is such that they are intentionally committed to inflict harm against another person. Looking at the extent of these crimes more men are involved than women. Only few of these crimes are committed by women. According to Cox, (2016) women are more likely to be charged with minor assault than men and they are either cautioned or put on probation by the court. In a recorded criminal violence in USA, the extent to which males commit crimes gives the perception that females are less involved it. The record showed that 89% of all those arrested for violent crimes were male and only 11% were females (Rehavi & Starr, 2014). In other countries like Canada, 88% of the people charged for violent crimes were men and 12% were women (Justice & Meares, 2014). Comparing the extent of crimes committed by the two parties, men are most likely to commit grievous crimes and for this they go through more severe punishment and so the perception that men are punished more severely.

Natural differences

According to Heidensohn, (2013) when crime or justice system involves a nursing or pregnant woman, the system gives consideration to such individuals. Men in general do not have these natural phenomena and so cannot be considered based on the justice system. Several cases that involve the use of discretion to warrant some leniency or consideration for such natural phenomena on the justice system have occurred. For this reason, women are less likely to be incarcerated and they are rather given shorter sentences than men. For instance, the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders’ place emphasis on the measures needed to give option for non-custodial for women guilty of offence and to give importance to contact given to imprisoned women and their children (Seperstein, Penner, et al, 2014). The rule also prohibit that pregnant women are given close confinement. Breastfeeding mothers and women who have infants are not to be prohibited and that the disciplinary sanction given to them should not involve a denial of family contact for mothers with children (Starr, 2014).

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Remedies to correct wrong perception 

To correct the wrong perception of gender disparities in the criminal justice system, (Peck, et al, 2014) mentioned that in the factual cases stronger enforcement of the law on equality is needed. It is important to ensure that there is a strong enforcement on the law and in the conviction of criminals, there should be equality in judgment. When women are considered based on factors such as natural difference or phenomena on equivalent crime committed, it provides an opportunity for them to be involved in violent crime. A survey conducted between 2012 and 2013 in the United States suggest that more females are involved in crime and are imprisoned than their male counterparts. The records showed that about 3 percent of women are imprisoned as compared to 0.2 percent of men. Therefore, it is important to correct the wrong perception of gender disparity in the criminal justice system. Another remedy to correct the wrong perception is the need to increase public education. In Justice & Meares, (2014) view, education is needed to sensitize the public against the perception that men are more likely to commit grievous offenses and that they are punished harshly against their female counterparts. The education should emphasis on the severity of equivalent crime committed by both women and men and that the two parties deserve equal punishment. The public should be educated that being a common or a man is not a ground for lesser or harsh punishment.

Conclusion 

In the criminal justice system of the United States of America, female offenders are treated differently than the male offenders. In explaining disparities in the criminal justice system, various theories suggest that the justice system show inequality when a sentence is given to a criminal. The system does not use legitimate discretion in the application of the law but tends to favor women.  Besides what is perceived by the public, the disparity in actuality of the criminal justice system and not just a myth. Some of the common perception of gender disparity include the perception that fewer proportion of women are less likely to be remanded, differences in the sentences given to men and women for the same type of crime and higher proportion of women receive caution even for serious offence.  Factors such as female to male crime rate ratio, the extent of crime committed and natural phenomena justify the disparity in the criminal justice in which females are treated leniently than their male counterpart. Women are either given a minimum conviction for an equivalent crime or they are caution on crime which is considered to be less grievous.  The reasons for their lenient treatment are stem from the fact that, some of them are nursing mothers or because of their caretaker responsibility. In order to eliminate the disparity, an increase public education is needed in the perception cases and in the factual cases, stronger enforcement of the law on equality is needed.

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