Women and the Criminal Justice System

Think of prison populations and you think of men. Indeed, men make up the greatest numbers within the system. Yet, the population of women in U.S. Prisons has more than doubled in the past 10 years. How a woman will be punished when she violates acceptable norms reflects the common view of that woman’s role in the greater community. Customary influence by family and community, for women, has traditionally been effective and much more violent than for men. The promise of formal controls, which for women carries a heavier toll than for men, seems intimidating and could account for the lower female prison population. The fact is, though, that across the world the percentage of women confined in prison is only a fraction of the total prison population, yet their sentences are generally longer and harsher. The question should be, Why this disparity when it comes to women and law?

Recent studies challenge the stero-typical thinking that women who are imprisoned are “bad”, or “whores”, or unnecessarily “tough”. Universally harsher and longer sentences illustrate a partiality. The issues of gender role and patriarchal culture must be understood to comprehend the relationship of women to law. Women in Kabul, have been targets of intense repression and victims of fundamentalist interpretation of religious law. Recently, a young woman wanted to marry a boy she had chosen and rejected by her parents’ choice. When she appealed to the Taliban for help, they sentenced her to five years in jail for violating Islamic law. Her two female cousins, 14 and 15, were taken to be married by force in exchange for a fee paid to their families. While the Taliban authority exemplified extremism, it is common for the Afghan family of the groom to pay a fee for his bride, diminishing the woman to property of a patriarchal society.

In the United States, the disparity of incarceration rates for men of African or Hispanic descent is well documented. For women, Black, Hispanic, or White, the disparity is even sharper. The percentage of women under correctional supervision had risen to almost 10 percent by 2006 compared to 1.3 percent increase for men. The disparity in incarceration rates for women may in part be attributable to the claim frequently made by women prisoners that they were incarcerated for crimes that were coerced, or even committed by their male partners, for whom they took the fall under the mistaken belief that a woman would get a more lenient sentence. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice also reveal that prior to their own imprisonment, the majority of these women prisoners had been victims of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, or coerced drug abuse involving older men; in other words crimes committed against them by men presaged these women’s incarceration.

It has been my experience that men commit homicide as the result of extreme rivalry and competition,, and committed the act in public and outside of the family. This indicates to me that men are conditioned from infancy to see their role outside of the family core and into the world arena. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to remain within the family unit. Most women that commit homicide share a commonality of similar background experiences of abuse. Maybe it is time that homicide be examined as a “social issue and cultural phenomenon”. Additionally, society is critically unforgiving for women who are believed to have betrayed their maternal attributes. While men who commit homicides are viewed to have momentarily lapsed into uncontrollable anger, women are seen to have violated their nature. The behavior of a man in this situation is seen as an extreme exhibition of his masculine nature, even at times more firmly establishing his masculinity, but a violation of this nature for a women overturns her identity and leads to her ruin.

Whatever the violation and wherever the country, the population of women in prison continues to grow. Logic would say that women are committing more crime. Are they really? Or, has society, through the utility of formal and informal law, changed the intensity of its response to women?

“The advancement of women without a doubt is a pre-condition for the establishment of a humane and progressive society”

United Nations

A society reflective of that goal can only be measured by the maturity and benevolence of its citizenry and a complete respect for human life.

Advertisements

One Man’s Perspective on Violence Against Women

Breast bruised, brains battered,
Skin scarred, soul shattered
Can’t scream-neighbors stare,
Cry for help, no one’s there

Stanza from a poem by Nenna Nehru, a battered Indian Woman

Despite differences in cultures and ideologies, women seem to face a consistent bias regardless of where they live. Tied to the social expectations of feminine behavior, victimization of women reflects a universal value placed upon them by men.

Violence against women occurs throughout the life cycle: Pre-birth is marked by sex selective abortion (China, India); battering during pregnancy (emotional and physical effects on woman, effects on the birth outcome); and coerced pregnancy (i.e. mass rape in war). Infancy carries the threat of female infanticide; emotional and physical abuse; and disparity in access to food and medical care for girl infants. Adolescents can be scarred by child marriage; genital mutilation; sexual abuse by family members and strangers; more disparity in the access to food and medical care; and child prostitution. Dating and courtship violence (i.e. date rape in the United States, acid throwing in Bangladesh) as well as economically coerced sex ( Africa); sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment, forced prostitution; trafficking of women. The reproductive age carries the risk of abuse of women by intimate partners; marital rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner homicide; psychological abuse; sexual abuse in the workplace; sexual harassment; rape; abuse of women with disabilities. Being older does not reduce the risk of victimization. In the U.S. the only country where records exist, elder abuse affects mostly women.

Quite consistently, women are, “defined according to traditional patriarchal images and within the patriarchal ideologies and structures of national and international relations”. Judith Zinsser, researcher for the United Nations.

Crimes against women are based on their role in society, as a daughter, mother, wife, and sister. Women are never judged as persons, and always judged as passive to their roles. A man is evaluated as a man, aggressively responding to his situation, within his roles in life, as father, son brother, husband, secondary to his gender.

This subjectivity to patriarchy is well illustrated in dowry burnings, popular in India. Murder, generally accepted as a crime against humanity takes on a different persona when related to brides who for one reason or another, experience with their husbands and husband’s families conflict over their dowries. In areas that require a marriage settlement, dowries become a powerful tool for moving up through social strata. In a firmly patriarchal society, the esteem of the male depends on the “purity” of the female. Not only a financial inheritance, the dowry reflects the moral purity of the bride. Indian dowry effectively functions to disinherit women and promote their economic dependency on men which is the real crux of dowry murders. When the dowry is no longer satisfactory, the bride becomes vulnerable to harassment, assault, and death.

Murder is illegal, but social norms in India validate the acceptance of such practice, marking it virtually impossible to punish anyone participating. Families involved in this practice place tremendous significance upon the material value of the union between two families and a financial gain for at least one. When the woman is sacrificed, the families protect each other from civil prosecution, further ingraining the value of men and valuelessness of women.

Think about rape. In our culture evidence of rape is evaluated by a perceived participation by the woman (i.e. how was she dressed, did she invite sex and then change her mind, was she using drugs). A recent story of a young girl in Pakistan who became pregnant as the result of rape. Unable to convince the court that rape had occurred and since her pregnancy was taken as proof that sexual intercourse outside of marriage had taken place, she was thirty lashes and three years imprisonment. She gave birth to the child in prison (a girl). Because of this situation, women are more afraid than before to bring a case of rape to court, and in turn this could, of course, encourage rapist. There is an easy transformation from victim to offender. Her actions did not change, only the subjective political observation of them. In the United States, a woman illustrated how she was victimized into criminalization:

“She was a Chicana introduced to drugs at the age of eleven; a victim of brutal domestic violence that caused her to miscarry twice; a drug user addicted first to heroine then to the so called cure, methadone; finally a mother forcibly separated from her daughter on account of her convictions and incarceration, and, finally, a woman who died in prison of a brain hemorrhage, the cumulative effect of a lifetime of beatings”.

Written from her death bed.

I hope to have shed some light on the epidemic of violence being perpetrated by us (men). I hope that we will no longer live by a “criminal code” of silence and non action. Its not what you say and do when women are around. Its what you say and do when they are not. Take a stand in the fight to end violence against women.

I’m Not Voting For Obama

My name is Chello. I live in Maryland. I have a wife and three children. I always take my children with me to vote. For one, the youngest likes the stickers. Secondly, I want them to learn about and be active in the process. I’m not voting for Obama.

I’m voting for my father. Who in the 1930’s was put in an insane asylum for his relationship with a black woman. He was only released to serve in WWII.

I’m voting for my mother, who unbeknownst to her, gave me the structure to be a proud man and a feminist. I want her to be financially secure and not have to worry about her retirement.

I’m voting for my brothers and sisters. My best friends and supporters.

I’m voting for my son, Malakai. Who can go to school and say “I want to be President” and not get the same “yeah right” looks that I did.

I’m voting for my daughter, Chelsea. Who can look forward to going to college and a bright future.

I’m voting for my daughter, Nichole. Who one day may be able to look up and see that there is no glass ceiling.

I’m voting for the class I gave a career day lecture to because I want their future to be bright.

I’m voting for the prisoners I counsel. I want them to be accountable for their crimes but I also want them to feel that justice truly is blind.

I’m voting for my community. A community that has more prisons than colleges. A community where jobs are few and morale is low.

I’m voting for the plumber who fixes things in my house. Who still gives me deals despite not being able to afford health care.  His name is Marty. 

I’m voting for all the people who died and suffered in the Civil Rights Movement.

I’m voting for all my fellow feminist bloggers.  We may disagree on politics, the direction of feminism, even if a man can be a feminsit, the sports teams that we root for, and many other things but people who I have grown to trust and care for.   I respect your opinions and wish you well. 

I’m voting for a government that will invest in its future. I’m voting for a government that will be respected and represent what is best about the world. I’m voting for a government that will protect it’s most vulnerable population like children, the elderly, and the working poor. I’m voting for a government that rewards volunteerism and makes higher education more than a dream.

I’m punching the ticket that says Obama/ Biden but it’s more than the candidates. It’s about a better tomorrow for all of us. I’m voting for that.

Published in: on October 31, 2008 at 11:43 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , ,

“Banished” Filmmaker Marco Williams

This documentary investigates a little-known period of ethnic cleansing in the United States: Roughly 1860 to 1920, when several counties and cities across the United States, including Forsyth County (Remember when Oprah went there?), Georgia, Pierce City, Missouri, and Washington County, Indiana, purged their black residents through violence and intimidation

Published in: on April 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,