Women Criminals and Social Inequality
Women Criminals and Social Inequality In today’s society, stratification is very prevalent - Women Criminals and Social Inequality introduction. Race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and ability all play a role in how one fits into society and how much power one has in their position. This is true in the criminal justice system as well. More specifically, sex plays a very significant role in the outcome of arrest, sentencing, and detention of criminals. The topic of female criminals is significant because in the criminal justice system, male and female offenders are treated very differently in more ways than one.
Throughout arrests, court outcomes, correctional stays, and parole or probation, sex plays a significant factor. For example, mitigating factors in the cases of female murderers or other hard crimes have more emphasis in the criminal justice system than mitigating factors in male’s cases do. Also, while in the correctional system, female institutions offer less opportunities and have worse healthcare than male institutions. It is obvious that these factors impact females greatly, yet males are equally as impacted regarding the outcomes of arrest, sentencing, and detention.
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Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, or ability, females and males who have committed the same crimes are not treated the same. One reason this might occur is because our society is very patriarchal. Males dominant the leadership roles in almost every occupation and this is especially true for the criminal justice system. Also, females are only now starting to participate in serious crimes. With universal women equality, women are no longer satisfied working for men being their look-outs or get-away drivers.
Females have taken the extreme roles on themselves and it is a shock to the criminal justice system who has only known males that murder and commit serious crimes. Another reason that female criminals are an important issue is because of the factor of male chivalry. Because most police officers are male, the police force sees females as people to look out for and take care of. It is difficult to see females as people who could murder or commit a severe offense.
Although there are many reasons why sex plays a significant factor in the outcome of arrest, sentencing, and detention of criminals, these are the main ones that are seen today. Traditionally, women have been under the control and ownership of their husband or father. If a female was to have committed a serious offense her owner would be in charge of punishing and reprimanding her. However, there is research that shockingly reveals many women being sent to Australia during the fourteenth century. These women were maids, servants, or laundresses.
Their crimes consisted of petty offenses such as stealing or shoplifting, and prostitution. Between the years of 1787 and 1852, 24,960 females were put on ships and sent to Australia for crimes that not even males would be sent for. Also, many of the females were first time offenders. After being arrested and sentenced to deportation, the women were repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted in the jails and on the ship, something that would very unlikely happen to the males aboard the ship (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 82-83).
In the years to follow, research has found that most women who murdered were indentured servants or those in an abusive marriage. For example, if a master was to rape an indentured servant and she was to become pregnant, it would add two years to her service. The woman would than commit infanticide to hide the pregnancy and would not have to work for her master any longer than necessary. In addition, women forced into marriages and especially those that were abusive were much more likely to murder than husband (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 83).
Many women who commit crimes were victims of family abuse or neglect. Because the woman’s crime that she committed was linked to her status as an individual, women were treated very differently even if they committed the same crime (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 87). One example of this is prostitution. If a common street worker was arrested for stealing food to survive, it was custom for them to be sent to jail or worse. However, if a wealthier woman was caught stealing food to survive because her husband refused to care for her, she would be sent to her husband for him to punish her.
This is what lead many women to murder their significant others rather than seek help. By the 1900’s, one concept had a huge impact of the way our world views women criminals. The chivalry hypothesis was studied extensively due to the fact that the statistics on female crime did not seem correct (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 88). This hypothesis believes that men are trying to protect women, and because the majority of the criminal justice system is ran by men, women are more often protected rather than punished for their wrong doings.
Police officers hate to arrest women, prosecutors do not like to convict them, and judges are reluctant to label a woman guilty. Whether or not these officials believed they were doing a good thing by protecting women or not, it would not happen the other way around. If a female is arrested and charges are brought against her, the chance of her being sentenced to time in jail or prison is very unlikely. In 1982 a study was done and it was concluded that women make up 15% of all arrests (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 90). However, women are only 6. 5% of the jail population and 4. 4% of the prison population (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p.
90). These numbers further supports the claim of the chivalry hypothesis and the fact that women are less likely to be given appropriate punishments for their crimes. In addition to the statistics, the severity of the offense is strongly related to the probability of a male being sentenced to imprisonment but has no considerable effect for a female (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 91). Furthermore, it is reported that female’s mitigating factors have a significant effect on the outcome of a criminal case whereas mitigating factors mean almost nothing in the outcome of a male’s criminal case.
For example, women who are married are less likely to be sentenced to hard time, but the marital status of a man has no impact either way. This could possibly be due to the fact that when a married woman is sent to prison, it is her husband they are punishing more. It is seen that the husband is the breadwinner and is already being punished for his wife’s crimes and sending away his housekeeper and nanny would be too much for a man to handle. Women who were economically dependent were given much less severe outcomes than independent women (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p.
91). While it is clear to see that females are treated less severe than men in the arrest and prosecution of criminals, it is not that way after the disposition is granted and the offender is sentenced to hard time. Beginning in the 1900’s, women encountered two different kinds of prisons. Unfortunately, neither system accorded them equal treatment to that of male prisons (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 92). The first system that is seen in the women’s correctional institutions is an afterthought to that of men’s correctional institutions.
Women’s correctional institutions were either old sections from a men’s correctional institution but no longer used, or are unused buildings of men’s institutions. Because of this, the conditions in the women’s prisons were much harsher than that where the men were placed (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 92). These prisons were quickly known as institutions that brutally abused the female inhabitants, both physically and sexually. There were repeated scandals about idleness and brutality and a change was needed.
The second system was established that had extremely different views on female corrections. This system believed that women could be “saved” from immoral lives of crime (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 93). The institutions turned into reformatories where women were domesticated and “trained. ” Unfortunately, these institutions slowly lost their motivation and “it became places to simply hold women that were considered morally threatening to social stability, they were “stubborn,” wayward,” and “immoral”” (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 93).
In addition to the harsh surroundings in prison, women also find that the institutions are very far from home. Due to the fact that a very small percentage of women are incarcerated, female prisons are few and far between. This makes for a much harder situation since most women are mothers and are too far from home to try and remain a parental figure in their children’s lives (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 95). Due to the fact that these institutions are less enhanced than the male institutions, the health care at the female institutions is extremely inadequate.
There are many concerns that female prisons overuse psychotropic drugs. It is found that the amount of drugs used in a female prison can be almost 10 times higher than the amount of drugs used in a male prison (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 95). This could be because women’s needs while incarcerated are rarely acknowledged, and even when they are, their concerns are met with punishment or useless medication. Female institutions offer few vocational programs such as job training and jobs while incarcerated. Lastly, there has been an increase in the number of female prisons.
Between 1974 and 1982, the number of women in prison increased 119 percent whereas the number of men in prison went up 70 percent (Chesney-Lind, 1986, p. 95). Although it seems that women committed serious crimes has increased, women are becoming more equal with men in the view of the criminal justice system and changes need to be made to accommodate this. Over the years, there have been many changes in our society that affects the way women criminals are dealt with. For example, the introduction of the women’s movement has caused many officials to begin to change their view on the women they arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate.
Although women were treated leniently years ago, criminal justice workers are changing their ways due to the women’s movement and are viewing female offenders with less paternalism (Steffensmeier, 1980, p. 345). This stems from the 19th Amendment in 1919 which allowed women in all fifty states to vote. By finally becoming equal with men in their political decisions, the first wave of feminism slowed to a halt. Because of the suffragists who are adamant about being equal with men, it allowed criminal justice personnel to treat women the same as men. This led to more arrests, harsher prosecution, and a higher rate of incarceration.
However, presently, women are still less likely than men to be incarcerated and are more likely to be acquitted or have their case dismissed (Steffensmeier, 1980, p. 347). It is hard for men to let go of their paternalistic attitudes even with the women’s movement and the rise in feminism. This is most likely due to the fact that men are keeping women on a pedestal to keep them in their place. As the second wave of feminism came around, women were much more focused on social and cultural equality than strictly on political equality. During this time, a couple books were written and helped changed the view on women’s rights.
The first is by Simone de Beauvoir called The Second Sex published in America in 1953. In her book, the French author and philosopher writes a detailed analysis on women’s oppression and contemporary feminism. Simone believes that for feminism to move forward, the attitude that women are deviant and abnormal needs to be put aside. The second novel that changed the view on the women’s movement is The Feminine Mystique. Written in 1963 by Betty Friedan, this book publicly criticizes the idea that women could only find fulfillment through childrearing and homemaking.
Betty’s book is regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century and helped pave the way for the women’s movement in the 1960’s. Due to the publishing of these two books the view on women has changed dramatically. As more women demand equality, the chivalrous attitudes of male criminal justice personnel with decrease (Steffensmeier, 1980, p. 353). It has helped make men and women more equal in the eyes of the law. Although the women’s movements and different works are published, the rise in the number of women criminal justice workers also plays a part in the outcome of women criminals.
The more women we see as police officers, lawyers, judges, and correctional officers, the more we see a rise in women who commit crime. This is because women have not been socialized to view themselves as in need of protection or that other women need protection (Steffensmeier, 1908, p. 354). Women in criminal justice positions will not make their decisions based on sex and the paternalistic view of women but rather based on the hard evidence and facts surrounding the case. Unfortunately, the future might see an excess in the number of arrests and the rate of prosecution of female criminals.
This is because women will soon not receive any special accommodations just for being female and they will be arrested and prosecuted harsher than before (Steffensmeier, 1980, p. 354). This theory is still under debate and can only be proved by the years to come. In the history of the United States, there has been little coverage on women’s crimes. That is, until the country discovered Aileen Wuornos. Aileen was a prostitute beginning at an early age and was raised by her abusive grandparents. By the time she was a teenager, Aileen was pregnant with her first child, who she claims was by an unknown man who raped her.
At 15, Aileen lost her grandparents and was left to raise herself. By her 30’s Aileen was a drifter, engaging in sex for money and never staying in one place too long. It was during this time that Aileen was sexually assaulted and rape when a prostitution job turned bad. Aileen claims that she killed the man in self defense but she did not go to the police or report the crime due to her history of violence and prostitution. Over the next two years, seven men were found murdered with a . 22 caliber pistol and left nude in their vehicles or the surrounding wildlife (Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p.
375). Aileen was arrested in 1991 on an outstanding warrant. While being questioned by the police officers, Aileen admitted to killing her first victim out of self defense. However, the long the trial went on, the more the prosecutors and jury discovered holes in her story. In addition to the other men being linked to Aileen, she was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Aileen’s death was carried out ten years later in 2002 by lethal injection and she was the first women serial killer that America has seen (Arrigo & Griffin, 2004, p.
375). When analyzing and researching Aileen Wuornos story, it is obvious to see that Aileen was playing the system. She was relying on the fact that the judge and prosecutor would believe her story or being raped and would find her not guilty because of self defense. Unfortunately for Aileen, the chivalry hypothesis was wearing thin and regardless of her claim of self-defense, the judge and jury found her guilty. By playing the victim role and acting helpless Aileen thought she could get away with murder.
However, thanks to the women’s movement and the increased equality of women, Aileen found herself on death row instead of getting the help she though she deserved. Diversity in the criminal justice system is very prevalent. Sex plays a very significant role in the outcome of arrest, sentencing, and detention of criminals. However, the way women are viewed in constantly changing, both in the criminal justice system and in day to day life. Race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and ability all play a role in how one fits into society and how much power one has in their position.
By enlightening the concepts that are unjust, our society can move to a more equal and fair nation. References Arrigo, B. A. & Griffin, A. (2004). Serial murder and the case of aileen wuornos: Attachment theory, psychopathy, and predatory aggression. Behavioral sciences and the law, 22, 375-393. Chesney-Lind, M. (1986). Women and crime: The female offender. Signs 12 (1), 78-96. Steffensmeier, D. J. (1980). Assessing the impact of the women’s movement on sex-based differences in the handling of adult criminal defendants. Crime & delinquency, 23 (3), 344-357.