If you are a criminal defendant, it is far better to be a woman than a man. For the same crime, and with a similar criminal history, men in the U.S. are imprisoned much more frequently and for much longer sentences. This is one gender gap that we hear very little about. AEI resident scholar Christina Hoff Sommers explains the very real consequences of being a man vs. a woman on trial for the same crime.
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If you are a criminal defendant, it is far better to be a woman than a man. For the same crime, and with a similar criminal history, men in the U.S. are imprisoned much more frequently and for much longer sentences. This is one gender gap that we hear very little about. Coming up next on the Factual Feminist. We incarcerate people in the U.S. on a scale unheard of in most parts of the world. If you brought together all those now in prison and on probation or parole, it would constitute the second largest city in the nation. And it would be close to 90 percent male. Now the fact that more men than women go to jail is not itself a sign of discrimination. Men are far more likely to be rule breakers, risk-takers, and perpetrators of crime. But what happens when men and women are arrested for the same crime? To answer this question, Professor Sonja Starr of the University of Michigan Law School examined a huge dataset of federal criminal cases. Unlike other studies that looked only at the sentencing stage, she followed the fate of defendants from arrest through sentencing. Her findings were shocking. After controlling for the arrest offense, criminal history, and other prior characteristics—and looking at the process from beginning to end—she found that women are significantly more likely than men to avoid charges and convictions altogether and “twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.” On average, men received 63% longer sentences than women arrested for the same crime. Professor Starr estimates that the gender gap in sentencing is about six times as large as the sentencing gap between black and white defendants. Starr offers a few possible explanations for the gender disparity: Women are often viewed as “followers” of their male romantic partners,” so judges and prosecutors might perceive them to be less responsible. Second, women are more likely to be the primary caretakers of their children, and prosecutors or judges might worry about the effect of jailing mothers. It’s also possible prosecutors and judges are more easily persuaded that women who commit crimes have mental health problems. What is the solution? Harsher sentences for women is not the way to go. The U.S. is already known as Incarceration Nation—more prisoners is not the answer. But if the courts are indeed making exceptions for women for their special circumstances, they should consider doing the same for men. As Starr points out: “About one in every fifty American men is currently behind bars, and we could think about gender disparity as perhaps being a key dimension of that problem.” So here we have a pressing gender equity issue—with huge social consequences. But If you look at the major women’s websites, you find mainly complaints about how women are treated in the criminal justice system. On the ACLU website you learn that, “Women receive harsher sentences for killing their male partners than men receive for killing their female partners.” The source is a 1980s fact sheet from a women’s advocacy group. But a newer and more serious study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that even if you exclude all the cases where women killed a husband out of fear or self-defense, Wives received shorter prison sentences than husbands (a 10-year difference, on average.)
Criminal sentencing: Do women get off easy?
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