Treatment of Genders Within the Criminal Justice System

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Updated: Aug 27, 2020
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This paper is written to discuss the differential treatment of genders within the criminal justice system. This particular issue has become an area of intense focus within the past several decades, as the roles of the sexes has begun to change and evolve. Particular attention is given to the difference between the treatments of women to men, as this is the view most associated with gender inequality. The women’s rights movement was a monumental milestone for this subject, as it paved the way to equality between the sexes, and what we may have perceive as definite characteristics or roles of either gender are being questioned and examined in terms of their capabilities within the justice system. Throughout this paper statistics, expert evidence/research and personal accounts will be presented to discuss the reasons of the differential treatment. Some sources will come from national databases like the Federal Bureau of Investigations. They may also be from individuals who have conducted extensive research within this particular area, such as the research by Sonja Starr through the University of Michigan Law School.


Gender inequality can be found in just about every aspect of our everyday lives; from our workforce to the courts. Inequality in the American justice system is an often overlooked subject matter. Many people do not know or understand the direct implications of gender inequality within the criminal justice system, because they are not directly affected, or have not experienced going through the courts. America has established a basis for gender neutral-laws and gender-specific laws. However, many of our gender-specific law have gradually evolved into gender-neutral. For example, up until the late 1970’s and early 1980’s laws described rape as only being conducted by the male gender. And, only being female offenders in prostitution (Belknap, 1996). This paper will discuss whether or not gender discrimination is responsible for such differential treatment within the criminal justice system.

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Many cultures and societies throughout the world hold men superior over women, our nation included. However, we have come a long way in equality, particularly with the women’s rights movement. These women may not have known it then in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, but they were paving the way to a more equal criminal justice system for today’s women and men. Just how did the movement help with equality in the criminal justice system? As I said before women were/are perceived as lesser than their male counterparts, whether it be in terms of muscle to their rivalry of intelligence. The Women’s Rights Movement set out to not only given women a right to vote, but to prove that women were far more equal to men than what was previously thought. With their actions they have allowed women to prove they are in fact very capable of not only being treated as men’s equals but that they are just as capable of committing crimes like men themselves.

Pre Women’s Rights Movement, women criminals were often committed to asylums, or prison/jails that worked to rehabilitate them into their expected roles of that time. When they weren’t given the option of being committed or ‘rehabilitated’ they were thrown into all male prisons, as women only accounted for seven percent of prisoners during this time (CITE). It was not immediately or even relatively soon after the movement that women were viewed as capable criminals; as made apparent throughout research up until the 1970’s(Belknap, 1996), many times women were excluded from criminal reports and statistics, as this could be attributed to their lack of faith in such behavior, or that their numbers were just too miniscule. As time progressed though, we have begun to realize the capabilities of women as shown abundantly clear, especially within the last the last 25 years as researchers have begun focus on women within the system, and patterns have begun to emerge showing women just as capable of crime as men.

Pro Gender Inequality in the Criminal Justice System

Gender is one of a few major, defining attributes in our lives. From the moment you are born you are labeled in one of two categories, and from there on you are to live your life in the category. These gender labels are not only there for the obvious, and noticeable reasons of the differing sexes, but they offer us the ability to see the difference between male and female. Scientifically, males and females differ in many ways. The obvious is the structure of the body, but it does not stop there. Also chemically, we differ in an enormous way, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Men produce far more testosterone than women, and women produce far more estrogen than men. Each of these chemicals account for different characteristics within the body. These chemicals, to not only include testosterone and estrogen, hardwire us and essentially control our actions.

Within the courts women and men can be treated quite differently; often it seems, women are treated better than men. Looking at statistics and scientific studies, we may be able to find a reasoning behind this differential treatment.

According to the Uniform Crime Report for 2012 (Arrests, 2013), women accounted for 26.2% (2,474,637) of arrests made in 2012, and males accounted for 73.8% (6,972,023). This is a substantial difference, men are well over double of the arrests of women. It would seem men are far more likely to be arrested than women. This could be attributed to how men and women are hardwired. Women’s brains contain more gray matter than men, this can mean women are more emotionally stable and behavior better than men (Brizendine, 2006). For men, having less gray matter means they are less likely to think emotionally and rationally. Unlike women, men may not think through their crime, by thinking of the repercussions. Basically, men are more prone to be irrational, and impulsive. Think of it as an evolutionary tool that placed men at the head of the family and allowed for immediate reactions that allowed them to survive and thrive. In addition to the basic brain makeup, there is the chemical makeup that differs between sexes. The most notable being testosterone and estrogen. To skip the scientific jargon, basically testosterone creates aggressive, impulsive, rash behavior. While estrogen causes females to place themselves in the victim’s shoes, and to think out their crime and repercussions that may follow.

The acceptance of differential treatment of the two sexes can be upheld by the scientific facts, that the male and female are two very different beings. Male and female may be the same as the basic human being, but on the level of wanting to understand the difference of the two, we can clearly see that the two are remarkably different. So, on a scientific level it is appropriate to expect such differences within the criminal justice system.

Against Gender Inequality in the Criminal Justice Process

Today gender is simply a defining characteristic for classification. We need labels to be able to sort one from another. However, today in America, we have come such a long way in gender equality. The first woman’s right convention was held in 1848 (McBride, 2011), setting the way for the woman’s right movement. To follow would be the amazing strides on the equal rights forefront, allowing women to become more equal with their male counterparts; from voting, to pay, to the courts, and more. Today women and men are more equal than ever, but there still lie more room for improvement especially within our court systems.

When we think of gender inequality we automatically think of man vs. woman, and woman being the victim. But, what one might not know it that each is a victim of inequality, especially men. Because of our evolved society, and the gender gap being smaller than ever before, the unfair and unequal treatment of gender in the justice system is not right, and needs to change.

Although women arrests are far outnumbered by male arrests, 73% to 26% (Arrests, 2013), there seems to be steady increase of women participating, and being arrested in once male dominated areas. Take larceny for example; from 2008-2012 women’s arrests for this have gone up 6%, while males have gone down 2% (Five, 2013), women are closing in on the gap in that area. Even with the average decrease in crime every year, women are becoming more and more prominent within the crime circuits. Could this be simply because women were never thought of criminals before, or because they were left off easier than men? Women are most often given lighter sentences by nearly 63%, and men are 15 more times likely to be incarcerated than men (Starr, 2012). That 63% is the result of a study conducted by Professor Sonja Star, who found that even with nearly identical crimes, and records women are treated with less harshness than men. Now focusing on the opposite, women are more likely to be arrested for prostitution than men, in 2010 of the 62,000 arrested 43,000 were women (Snyder, 2012). This could be associated to the majority of prostitutes being female. But, with that said, women are almost always targeted because they are what we perceive as the “average” prostitute.

In an article I read several years ago, the name and where I found it remain forgotten. The message remained with me, and it was that women are seen as victims and men are seen as the predators, when in actuality women are just as much predators as men. Take the custody cases of children, many times women will make false claims against a father to receive majority of custody and support. These claims are often unsupported, yet they are unquestionably believed by the courts.
The gender inequality within our courts are hurting the progression of gender equality we have so diligently worked towards. Women have proven themselves equal with men, and men have proven themselves with women, so why are we still treating each as if they were alien’s species from one another?

Personal Views: Gender Inequality in Criminal Justice System

I took on this particular subject because I wanted to find out how I stood on the matter. I approached it with an open mind, and placed my biases to the side. I pride myself on being a factual and logical person, I prefer to construct my opinions based upon pure facts like statistics and hard science.

Gender inequality is a very sensitive issue to begin with, but as a woman I am expected to undoubtedly, pledge my allegiance to the belief of feminism. Women are expected to strive for equality to men in all aspects of life. While I agree for the most part, I think we need to take our biology into account. Through my research, particularly the science, I have surprised myself. Men and women are very similar; like we have all the basic needs of each other and we often strive for the same success. But, with this research I have found that women and men are statistically more likely to take part if very different kinds of crimes. And the biology may be behind it. For example men are more likely of the two to take part in crimes where someone is directly hurt or affected. This can be attributed to women thinking through the crime, and being more sentimental towards the victims. While men are more impulsive and less likely to think things through. To back up this though process (and where my interest is peaked) scientists have looked at the difference of the male and female body.

While I think there needs to be different approaches to handling the crime, particularly in the sense of prevention, for the most part I want to make clear that I do not think women and men should be treated as if they are completely different species. Sentencing and jail/prison time should essentially be the same, it’s just that we should know the differences of the two, by better understanding the inner workings of the two to help us find a solution.


Gender inequality is an aspect of our lives that is often overlooked, or dismissed. We have come such a long way, throughout our great history, in advancing the fairness of treatment of both sexes. However, with that said we still have major room for improvement. Within the criminal justice aspect, gender does play a significant role in treatment on individuals. From a purely scientific standpoint, male and female individuals are designed differently and are built for completely different standards compared to their counterparts.

This paper has shown that gender does play significant role in the differential treatment of individuals throughout the criminal justice system, but it is not the only difference, and most definitely not the most significant reason for the differential treatment.

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Treatment of Genders Within the Criminal Justice System. (2020, Aug 27). Retrieved from