Gender Bias in the U.S. Federal Criminal Justice Funnel

face of a prisoner

The U.S. federal criminal justice system shows an increasing sex-ratio bias toward men in the criminal justice funnel from arrest to doing time in prison. Flows of persons in criminal justice systems typically shrink in successive stages of processing: suspects, arrests, convictions, and commitments to prison. That’s known as the criminal justice funnel. The stock of persons in prison depends on the history of commitments and stay length. From 1998 to 2011, the number of federal prisoners nearly doubled. Sex ratios among persons arrested, persons committed to prison, and persons in prison increased, respectively, from 5.7, 8.0, and 12.4 men per woman in 1998 to 6.8, 10.0 and 14.4 men per woman in 2011. Gender bias toward criminalization of men cumulatively increases at successive stages of the federal criminal justice funnel. In addition, that anti-men criminal-justice gender bias has increased across decades to the present.

Much data indicate that criminal sentencing is not gender-neutral in practice. Controlling for offense severity and other legally relevant factors, men receive significantly longer prison sentences than women do.^ Anti-men gender bias is not just a problem of criminal sentencing. Anti-men gender bias fundamentally shapes the relationship between victimization and criminalization. The massive increase in incarceration in the U.S. since 1980 cannot be understand without close attention to highly gender-biased domestic violence policy.

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