Gender Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System: Exploring the Impact on Women

Gender discrimination in the criminal justice system creates significant obstacles to achieving access to justice for all. This problem disproportionately affects women, who still face significant barriers to accessing justice, whether they are victims, witnesses, alleged offenders or inmates. Criminal justice systems tend to focus on the needs of a predominantly male population of offenders and inmates, although the global number of women in prison is growing at a faster rate. Numerous studies have investigated why women are highly underrepresented in prisons in the United States.

By explaining this “gender gap”, academics have found that women are treated more leniently than men at various stages of the judicial process. Explanations for the lenient treatment women receive are often oversimplified as “sex differences” in criminal behavior and could benefit from further research. Through qualitative interviews with federal judges and lawyers, as well as observations of criminal prosecutions, this study examines how the family, as a place of research, produces lenient judicial outcomes for women, specifically in the stages of arrest and sentence. This study considers the role of the “caregiver” in the ideal of the American nuclear family, as well as the gender norms, rules and expectations for the performance of this role by women.

The findings of this study show that defendants are treated leniently not only because of their gender, but rather because of the responsibilities they are expected to assume in the family. The family as a social force and institution has rarely been considered as a source of gender bias in criminal courts. However, the law has already exceeded expectations in Pennsylvania and will provide many people affected by justice with an equitable opportunity to build a prosperous future for themselves while facing the challenges of re-entry and recovery from the pandemic. This thematic summary analyzes the unique challenges faced by women with criminal records when trying to enter the workforce.

Nagel and Hagen (198) shed light on the “bad woman” thesis, the idea that women receive more severe sanctions because their criminality defies gender norms. While pro-family attitudes and gender discrimination in the criminal justice system are well established individually, few have examined family and gender as a whole. Measures such as a clean slate are important for all people affected by justice, but especially for the growing number of women who face the challenges of having criminal records with even fewer reentry resources than their male counterparts. As Daly (1987b) writes, “many explanations have been proposed for gender differences in criminal court sentences, but none has been based on a systematic study of the reasoning processes used by judicial officials to punish accused and accused (p.Given the overrepresentation of women in caregiving roles, Daly (1987a; 1987b; 1989b) found that women accused receive more leniency than men, which creates a gender gap in the criminal justice system.

Similarly, it is important to recognize that not all forms of maternity are treated equally in criminal courts. Consequently, we must bear in mind that the family, as a place where systems of oppression intertwine, not only produces results based on gender, but also produces racialized and classified results in criminal courts. This study is based on judicial paternalism and social cost theory to explain the gender gap in the criminal justice system through the family. To explain my findings and base them on existing literature, I use judicial paternalism and social cost theory as frameworks, each of which offers a unique perspective on the gender gap in the criminal justice system. Disparities in the treatment of fathers and mothers in criminal courts reveal that the family is a major source of gender biases.

Clean registration, fair licensing and hiring with fair opportunities policies are measures based on justice reform that would help ensure that women with criminal records face fewer barriers to accessing quality employment opportunities.

Luis Mersinger
Luis Mersinger

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