The criminal justice systems in different countries are guided by the belief in justice and the rule of law. Therefore, it is expected that all people are subjected to equal treatment before the law. However, legal systems in different parts of the world have not been able to attain satisfactory levels of equal treatment of people. Some persons are treated leniently, while others are treated harshly. People have been subjected to different kinds of treatment based on such factors like gender and race.
As far as gender is concerned, women tend to be treated with leniency in a criminal justice system in many parts of the world. They are generally treated with softness in the courts and correctional facilities. Pieces of legislation also tend to be soft to them as compared to males. It means that in the entire criminal justice system females are treated more leniently than their male counterparts.
In the criminal justice system, defendants usually start by making contact with the police who carry out an investigation of the offence committed by a defendant. The investigation is used as a basis of making a decision on whether to make an arrest or not. The police are usually lenient to women during investigations. They opt for a more gentle approach when female offenders are involved (Beasley 2005).
Women may also be exempted from arrests because of the belief that they can cooperate with the police even when they are not in police custody. However, the nature of crime committed usually determines the type of decision making. In most cases, women who have been involved in less serious offences are only cautioned. Men, on the other hand, may be arrested even on crimes that do not warrant any arrests.
Harsh Treatment in the Criminal Justice System
The statistics in the UK indicate that cautioning rates among female offenders stand at 44% while that of their male counterparts is at 27% (UK Home Office 2012). In the situations where the latter are cautioned, the legal process does not go beyond the preliminary investigations.
In making arrests, the police tend to be lenient to females because of the roles they play at their homes. Women are usually associated with the role of taking care of a family especially when they are mothers (Walsh 2010). The police may either choose or be forced not to make arrests on them because of this reason.
The police may allow them to carry on with their duties as legal processes continue. While this may only apply where less serious offences are involved, men might not enjoy such softness even when they have been involved in petty offences. It is believed that women cannot stay away from their families for whatever reasons (Hartmann & Uggen 2013).
Therefore, the police may decide not to arrest them because of the belief that such females are not likely to go into hiding because they have to take care of their families. On the other hand, it is believed that men can stay away from their families as long as their relatives have access to basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing.
Females may also escape arrests because of pregnancy. In fact, the police are usually more lenient to them when they are expectant. They may avoid making arrests unless the nature of a crime warrants it. People avoid subjecting pregnant females to stressful conditions. Therefore, the police may not do this so as to protect them from the psychological effects that might result from this process (Samaha 2013).
They may also avoid arresting expectant women because of harsh physical conditions involved. For this reason, the arrest of such women may not go beyond a routine questioning at police stations. Once they have been questioned, they may be allowed to go back home until they are called upon. It is if legal processes are preceded beyond questioning.
Upon the completion of investigations by the police, the court takes over. It is the institution that the disputes involved are settled and justice administered. In the court, the evidence is examined through a series of legal proceedings before the ruling is made.
Therefore, the facts presented before the court influence the decision to a great extent. In most cases, if it involves female defendants, the evidence presented by the police may not show the exact seriousness of the crime. Since the police tend to be lenient to them during investigations, they may leave out the crucial information. It should be noted that a case is usually decided in favour of the party that presents the strongest argument according to the law.
Therefore, sometimes the police fail to give detailed reports of investigations on female defendants in the court. Thus, the prosecution may not have a basis for making strong arguments. It may make female defendants receive a lighter punishment because of leniency. It starts right from the preliminary stages of a legal process.
Women are treated with softness in the criminal justice system because they are associated with less serious crimes. Men, on the other hand, are associated with more harsh criminal activities. They are believed to be violent in nature. Therefore, they are usually related to such serious crimes as murder. In criminal activities, involving both genders, males are usually believed to be ringleaders.
Therefore, when the two are presented before the law, females tend to be treated with lenience. Contrary to that, their male counterparts are usually subjected to harsh treatment. Women may only be treated as accomplices in such crimes. In such cases, conclusions may be made that their active participation could be in the planning of criminal activities rather than execution. Therefore, they may receive lighter penalties than their male counterparts. It occurs in situations where they are involved in committing a crime.
The history of criminal activities also favours females. More men than women were involved in crimes in the past. It precipitates leniency in handling women in the criminal justice system. In 2003, a study on criminal activities in Britain revealed the following facts. Women constitute about 19% of all known and/or reported criminals. The statistics also show that more men than females were involved in violent crimes in the past. For this reason, crime has and is still more associated with males than women are.
Therefore, the criminal justice system has always been harsh on former and soft on the latter from the past. Criminal justice systems have subjected the men to harsh treatment in a bid to reduce their involvement in criminal activities. It should be noted that decisions in different crimes are sometimes made based on decisions that were made in the past. Therefore, the present criminal system may apply some of the lenient laws used in the past.
Women usually find it relatively easier to be released on bail. It is because they are naturally perceived as innocent (Naffine 1996). Men, on the other hand, find it hard to be granted bail. An easy release of females on bail enables them to escape the harsh conditions people are usually subjected to being in the hands of the police. It should be noted that when a person is put in the police custody on claims that they are suspects in certain criminal activities it does not necessarily mean that they are guilty.
It can be compared to a situation where punishment is inflicted even before any conviction. An individual is usually presumed innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, if the person is staying in the police custody only for him/her to be found not guilty after trial, it amounts to the unjustified punishment.
Women's easy access to bail gives them an upper hand over their male counterparts. Individuals who are free while waiting for trial can have an advantage in preparing a strong defence. It is easier to gather evidence and locate witnesses when the one is free. A person who secures freedom by posting bail successfully can also take advantage of the time to get the legal advice from a lawyer.
On the other hand, people who cannot obtain a pre-trial release cannot prepare adequately for their defence. While people usually seek the help of a legal counsel, those staying in the police custody may not get enough time with their legal representatives.
Therefore, detained suspects cannot be of much help as far as the preparation of their own defence is concerned. Women have an advantage in securing the pre-trial release because they are usually treated more leniently in the criminal justice system (Nelken 2013). It enables them to enjoy the benefits that come with the pre-trial release, unlike their male counterparts.
During sentencing, the process is usually lenient to females and relatively harsh to the men. Many factors are considered in deciding on the punishment to administer. Here again, issues to do biological differences and social roles come to the picture. For instance, expectant women are likely to be given light punishments such as a community sentence. In extraordinary circumstances, they may be discharged altogether after being cautioned.
However, the person's criminal history may also be taken into consideration in such circumstances. Women who do not have a criminal history have an upper hand when it comes to sentencing. In situations, when the nature of the crime makes it necessary for an offender to be sentenced to prison, they tend to get relatively shorter terms.
Females are also treated with leniency in the criminal justice system because they usually attract attention whenever they are involved in criminal activities. Since the number of women's offenders is smaller than of male offenders, people always get to hear about the few instances when they get involved in criminal activities. Therefore, women are usually handled with care. It happens frequently in the criminal justice system because of efforts to maintain the confidentiality of the activities of the system.
In such an event that women are treated harshly, it may raise an alarm among the members of the public. The criminal justice system may be forced to treat them with softness so that they do not cause public attention. While the criminal justice system may exercise fairness in their actions, the public may not agree with such actions. It may think otherwise.
In most cases, women are given a lighter punishment. It is because of the belief that nature, they do not have evil motives when engaging in crimes. Men, on the other hand, are usually perceived as violent and destructive. Therefore, in most cases, their involvement in criminal activities is usually exaggerated. It may be through such ways as increasing the count of charges they may be tried for in a single criminal activity.
For instance, such a crime as theft may be described as robbery and an attempted murder if the offender is male. However, if the offender involved is female, criminal activity may be described as a normal theft case. The perception that men engage in crimes with the motive of harming other people exposes them heavy punishments. The types of punishment females are given clearly show that the courts are lenient towards them.
Women also take advantage of perceptions people have towards them to make the criminal justice system favourable for them. There are gender stereotypes that they may use to their advantage. They may deceive other people on grounds of social and biological roles that are expected of them. For instance, when women are presented before the criminal justice system, they may behave in ways that show that they are indeed irrational and weak.
Many of them have used this trick with varying degrees of success. Their success can be measured based on how they have managed to deceive others in the legal process. A good number of them have been treated with leniency because their cheatings have worked fairly well.
Several theories explain why females are treated leniently in the criminal justice system. The Chivalry Theory is one of such theories. According to it, women are naturally incapable of engaging in serious crimes. People have developed an attitude of looking at them as the people who should always abide by the laws put in place by authorities. Women are also perceived as persons who respect existing social norms and always look up to men.
On the other hand, the males are perceived as protectors of females. They are expected to protect the "weaker sex" in all situations. They are also expected to protect female offenders as well. It is because a bottom line is that they still remain to be females even when they are labelled as criminals. Since men dominate the criminal justice system, they may influence any decision-making process. It happens that most of the decisions they make a favour for men more than women.
Paternalism is yet another theory that accounts for the lenient treatment that females receive in the criminal justice system. The proponents of this theory compare women to children. The theory points to the fact that they behave more or less like kids. It further points out that women cannot control their behaviour. It is believed that they are not entirely responsible for their actions.
Therefore, the lenient treatment they receive can be attributed to the fact that external forces may have influenced them to participate in criminal activities. It explains why females are more likely to be treated with softness in an event that they collaborate with their male counterparts in crimes. In such cases, males will shoulder bigger blames. They are believed to influence most actions of women. Therefore, paternalism agrees with chivalry that females should be protected because they are "weaker".
However, the leniency towards them in the criminal justice system is quickly disappearing. For many years, people, especially women, have championed for gender equity. The main aim behind creating a society of gender equity was to create equity in the access to opportunities for both genders (Cohen 2011).
However, the debate is taking a new turn with the critics pushing for equal treatment of both genders in all areas. The criminal justice system is also embracing the idea of subjecting every person to equal treatment before the law regardless of gender, race, or any other factor. The latter ones may be used as a basis of discrimination. Besides, the belief that many women take advantage of leniency displayed in the criminal justice system is starting to make things harder for them.
Lately, women have also suffered harsh treatment when they are punished for various crimes. The criminal justice system tends to be harsh to them when they go against societal norms regarding femininity. For instance, the court is softer to men in crimes related to rape and promiscuity in many societies. In such incidences, women have to prove that they are worthy of respect. Female offenders who have engaged in such criminal activities as rape and promiscuity are treated with contempt (Naylor 2001).
On the other hand, men who have been involved in rape are treated like criminals as for other capital offences. When they are involved in promiscuity and/or rape, the circumstances of these offences may be examined. Therefore, they may be treated with less contempt even if the punishment may be as just as heavy. It is attributed to the fact that females are expected to be perfect in observing social norms.
The leniency that women have enjoyed in the criminal justice system for a long time is reducing. The patterns of a crime are changing as well. Some crimes are believed to be traditionally masculine crimes (Ministry of Justice Statistics 2011). For instance, the cases related to a brutal murder have always been associated with male offenders.
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However, an increase in women involved in crimes that are traditionally associated with males is changing the people's perception of female offenders. The harsh treatment they are subjected to by the public for such crimes is slowly being embraced by the criminal justice system. Women that make such criminal activities are more related to males. They are usually believed to be very dangerous.
As such, they are treated harshly with the belief that being hard on them may help to correct them. Furthermore, women who engage in serious crimes are believed to be conversant with some sophisticated ways of escaping from police custody and jail. They are, therefore, put under tight security.
Some cases of females being subjected to the harsh treatment in the criminal justice system may also be attributed to the following fact. It is that the system is male-dominated. Women who have been the victims of the harsh treatment in the criminal justice system feel that males dominating the system are unsympathetic to females (Dobash & Dobash 1992).
They believe that harsh treatment is not justified. They believe that things should be different if the system had a bigger number of females being able to influence the decision-making process. They also suppose that men treat females harshly. It is because women are expected to be submissive, even in oppressive situations. This situation is more prevalent in correction facilities. Women have been the victims of mistreatment in prisons because men believe it is the best way to stamp their authority.
Theories that explain the case of women being the victims of the harsh treatment in the criminal justice system also exist. Paternalism, which has been discussed earlier in this research, has a strand that suggests the opposite one (Cullen, Agnew & Wilcox 2013). It is referred to as the evil woman theory. It points out that some females do not exhibit the women's behaviour as spelt out in the chivalry theory (Walklate 2001).
In society, they are the females being against the expected gender roles. As such, they display a tough character and appear to be aggressive. Therefore, they commit violent crimes that have traditionally been related to men. The evil woman theory directs that such females have to be treated with harshness. They do not deserve protection from society. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that females being engaged in violent crimes are treated harshly in the criminal justice system (Davis 2014).
Feminist criminologists use the double deviance theory to explain why the cases of women being subjected to the harsh treatment in the criminal justice system exist. The theory argues that females committing crimes usually receive double punishment. The double punishment is for deviating from the expected gender norms and for the crimes they have committed.
According to this theory, criminal females are first guilty of defying social norms. That is why they have to be punished for this. Therefore, such women end up receiving the punishment for the committed crimes, according to the law, and for defying social norms (Bernard, Snipes & Gerould 2009).
It is evident that there is no such thing as equal treatment in the criminal justice system once sex differences are involved. Women are treated leniently in comparison with their male counterparts in most cases. The perception people have about gender differs significantly. People look at women and men in various ways because of their biological differences.
Besides, they have different social roles to play. Based on the differences that exist around gender, men and women are not subject to equal treatment in many areas including the criminal justice system. Women are treated leniently than males right from the preliminary stages of the legal process till the terminal stage. At the start, women are not subjected to forceful arrests and strict investigation processes.
At the end, where the ruling is made, they tend to be given lighter punishments compared to their male counterparts. On the other hand, the majority of males are usually subjected to a more harsh and rigorous process. While women have at times been subjected to the harsh treatment in the criminal justice system, the cases are rare.