In additional to broad public support for grotesque criminal suspicion of men, public discourse also supports proposals for increasing the already vastly disproportionate ratio of men in prison per woman in prison. These proposals emotively plead for “abolishing women’s prisons” and “stop imprisoning women.” The implicit effect would be to increase gender bias against men in the criminal justice system. Arguments for increasing anti-men criminal justice bias are astonishingly irrational.
Many more men than women are imprisoned. The ratio of men to women in prison has changed greatly over time. The current ratio of men to women in prison is much higher than historical ratios. The small number of women prisoners relative to men prisoners is a good reason for reducing the number of men prisoners. Raising the already high ratio of men to women in prison doesn’t promote equality in any reasonable sense.
Arguments for eliminating imprisonment of women depend on crude gender stereotyping. Women are stereotyped as less violent than men. Women are stereotyped as more important to their families than men. Women are stereotyped as being less criminally culpable than men. Gender stereotyping has been decisively rejected in the workplace, government, and the military. Bringing gender stereotyping into the justice system promotes injustice.
The deeply rooted public appeal of privileging women in criminal justice is cuttingly exemplified in the South African Supreme Court case President of the Republic of South Africa and Another v Hugo (1997). The great leader Nelson Mandela freed prisoners with an order that categorically discriminated against men. The South African Supreme Court upheld that order. Establishing equal justice under law for men and women will be extraordinarily difficult. But truth, justice, and equality are too important to be emptied of their meaning through anti-men gender bias.
Some recent articles advocating increasing anti-men gender bias in criminal justice:
- Patricia O’Brien, “We should stop putting women in jail. For anything.” Washington Post, 6 November 2014. “Essentially, the case for closing women’s prisons is the same as the case for imprisoning fewer men. It is the case against the prison industrial complex and for community-based treatment where it works better than incarceration. But there is evidence that prison harms women more than men, so why not start there?” The “evidence” that prison harms women more than men is tendentious research in support of gender stereotypes. Many more men than women are imprisoned. Imprisonment thus, in aggregate, directly harms men much more than women. Starting with reducing the harm to the group harmed much more would make sense.
- Jim Murphy, “Too many of Scotland’s women end up in jail – and that’s bad news for us all.” the guardian, 18 January 2015. “Scotland sends too many women to jail.” In the mid-nineteenth century, Scotland held in prison about 2 men per woman. Scotland current holds in prison about 17 men per woman. Why has the ratio of men to women in prison risen so greatly? Why should policy intentionally seek to raise that ratio further?
- Lydia Smith, “Women in prison: It is equality to treat female offenders differently to men,” International Business Times, 29 January 2015. Equality means inequality, freedom means imprisonment, truth means lies, gender stereotyping is good when it increases anti-men gender bias in criminal justice. Welcome to Orwell’s world.
- “Women’s prisons should close, says justice taskforce,” BBC News, 6 June 2011. That task force has all the incredibility of domestic violence research offering practical implications for criminal justice.