Sentencing Bias Against Men in Criminal Sentencing

face of a prisoner

Sentencing bias against men can be evaluated with systematic empirical evidence. According to a peer-reviewed empirical study, persons convicted of a serious crime in federal district courts receive a mean sentence of about 65 months. In those circumstances, men receive about 10 month longer sentences than do similarly situated women. Statistical controls for other factors leave the sentencing sex bias statistically explained by “paternal bias among male judges that favors female offenders.”^ However, across U.S. state criminal justice systems, a higher male/female ratio among prisoners correlates with a lower male/female ratio among judges in state courts of general jurisdiction. More empirical work is needed to understand better the relevant facts and correlations. Detailed institutional and behavioral analysis is needed to interpret the correlation between more female judges and a less disparate imprisonment of men relative to women.

Law review articles on gender and justice conventionally begin with lurid and grotesque cases. Lack of such cases doesn’t seem to be constraining serious scholarly work on sentencing bias against men. For example, a news article entitled “9 Wants to Know: Women Sentenced for affair {sic} with 13-year-old” described a woman who committed statutory rape that resulted in the birth of a child. She accepted a plea bargain for one year in jail with work release.^ Another article, entitled “Molester coach sentenced to a year of work furlough,” describes a women who pleaded no contest to “18 felony counts of penetration with a foreign object and oral copulation with minors.” She was sentenced to a year of work furlough.^ The point is not that women should be punished more harshly for such actions, but rather that men should not be punished more harshly than women for the same crimes. The latter claim isn’t controversial in the abstract. It’s also of relatively little interest in current intellectual practice.

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