The purpose of the Criminal Justice System is to deliver justice to all, by protecting innocent members of the society, to punish and convict criminals and to provide help to them in an attempt to stop them offending; at least that is what the society expects of the Criminal Justice System. It is supposed to deliver justice in a fair manner regardless of gender. However much is written that suggests otherwise.
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Chivalry, believed by Pollak (1960) is a theory which claims that women are treated in a less harsh way by the courts and prisons because of their nature as women, which then distorts criminal statistics. However, Gregory & Leonard (1982/83) disregard the chivalry factor as the cause of a gender gap in crime and Heidensohn (1985 cited in Jewkes and Letherby 2002 p.180) illustrates the theory of chivalry in a case reported in the Daily Mirror in January 1978 where a mother flogged her eight-year old son with a belt, gave him cold baths and forced him to stand naked for hours at night. The mother was jailed but later allowed to go freely because the courts said she needed to look after her other child. This case is a great illustration of how women are more favoured by the courts than men. This view can be seen as ideological and unsociological as it is based on female biology. Carmen (1983 cited in Jewkes and Letherby 2002 p.183) quotes sherrifs ‘if she is a good mother we don’t want to take her away. If she’s not it doesn’t really matter’. This shows that the sentencing of a woman is based on her nurturing nature being of good standard or otherwise.
A Home office study research ‘170’, titled ‘Understanding the sentencing of women’ was a study which made an effort to address the lack of extensive research into the way women are sentenced. The main aim of the study was to establish how the Magistrates go about taking account of the substantive differences in men’s and women’s lives and their perceptions of justice. The study was in two parts, in part 1 a test carried out suggested that women were less likely than comparable males to receive a prison sentence but they were more likely to be discharged or sentenced to a community penalty. However it was suggested that instead of the findings being interpreted as a general policy of leniency towards women, it should rather be seen that the sentencers may be reluctant to fine a woman possibly because they may be penalising her children, rather than just herself. This may have been all well and good if it were the days when majority of women still upheld their stereotypical domestic role as mothers and keepers of the home. “It is part of family ideology that a woman’s place is in the home, while a man’s task is to out to work to earn the money to support his wife and children” (Allan, G 1999, p.191). However, we now live in a society where women are now bread winners, house hold duties are also taken on by men, women divorce their husbands for one reason or the other and consequently leaving the children behind for the father to take care of them. The Criminal Justice System might not take into account when sentencing men, that some of them are actually both mother and father to the children and carry out the role of the mother. In part 2 of the study nearly 200 Magistrates were interviewed; the Magistrates said they found it difficult to compare their sentencing between men and women because they dealt with female offenders less frequently. Nonetheless, they distinguished between ‘troubled’ and ‘troublesome’ and tended to locate most women in the troubled category. It was partly because women tended to be first offenders, facing less serious charges than men and because they behaved more respectfully in court. The Magistrates went on to say that because they regarding women offenders as troubled, they responded to their offending with measures (a discharge or probation) designed to assist them to lead law abiding lives rather than punishing them.
In an article by Jason Bennetto in ‘The Independent’, it is said that more women are committing violent crimes, particularly street robbery, burglary and fighting, and that part of the problem believed to be causing this is the result of neglect, abuse and drug or alcohol addiction. According to a report, Crimes of Desperation 2008, a significant amount of crime committed by females is rooted in poverty. As much as poverty may be the driving force for some, others may simply be using the money they have to fund their drug and alcohol use and subsequently turning to crime to further fund their tendencies. A Survey of over 1,000 mothers in prison, appears to provide some support for this report, 54% said they had no money, 38% needed to support their children, 35% were on drugs or alcoholics, 33% had family problems and 33%had no job. Caddle and Crisp (1997 cited in Newburn, T 2007 p.809)
It was argued firstly by Freda Adler and later Rita Simon that female crime rates had been increasing rapidly in the late 80s and early 1970s and that they were changing their offending patterns to more masculine styles; it was due to the growth of the modern women’s movement. (Maguire, M. Morgan, R. Reiner, R. 2012)
In an empirical research looking at whether men and women offend for similar reasons, it was in relation to property crime that women featured most heavily in, which led to some commentators arguing that many women became involved in criminal activity for mostly to provide for children or family in circumstances where there are limited legitimate opportunities. (Newburn, T. 2007)
“The point is that female delinquents are not perceived to be merely adopting behaviour more usually associated with males, they are portrayed as being chromosomally or genetically abnormal. This means that the ‘treatment’ of such o¬€enders becomes justi¬able, the aims, intentionality and rationality of the deviant act are overlooked and the social and cultural conditions under which the act took place can be relegated to the vague status of ‘environ- mental’ factors whose only role is to occasionally ‘trigger’ the inherent path- ology of the deviant. Crime and delinquency can thereby be treated as an individual, not social, phenomenon” Smart (n.d)
An alternative view to that of chivalry is double jeopardy. Heidensohn (1985) suggesting that female offenders are subjected to double jeopardy, meaning that when they are on trial, they are not only on trial for the crime they committed but also also for their femininity. Also, if any, female offenders are penalized for their sexual misconduct, while the male
counterparts are not. Therefore the courts operate a double standard for female offenders. Women’s low share of recorded criminality has significant consequences for those women who do offend: they are seen to have transgressed not only social norms but gender norms as well. As a result they may, especially when informal sanctions are being taken into account, feel that they are doubly punished. (Maguire, M. Morgan, R. Reiner, R. 2012)
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In murder cases, women get tougher sentences than men do, because in most cases the murder is premeditated. The case of R v Ahluwalia (1992) is about a woman who was being sexually abused, bullied and violently abused by her husband. After 10 years of abuse, she decided she’d had enough and she poured petrol over her husband’s body and set fire to him, six days later he died. She was convicted of murder because according S.3 of the Homicide act 1957 there must be a ‘sudden and temporary loss of self-control’ which she did not possess at the time she killed her husband. It was seen as pre meditated because the abuse took place over 10 years. The defendant was then sentenced to life imprisonment, but was later released. Another case is the one of Zoorah Shah who was given a life sentence for killing her boyfriend by putting arsenic in his food. The courts did not take into account the fact that she was beaten regularly and exploited by her boyfriend to be prostitute. These cases are a major contrast to the case of David Hampson: a man smashed the head of his wife with a hammer and killed her. His reason for the murder was that his wife had nagged him for years. The judge accepted his reason as a reasonable excuse to be provoked to kill someone. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years.
Looking at these cases it shows the practicality of women being subjected to double jeopardy. It seems that these women are not only being punished for their crime but also because of their biological nature. Also, it seems to show that the courts believe that it is more acceptable for a man to lose his temper as opposed to a woman, because a woman’s nature is meant to be submissive, calm and rational. Some would say that women should not be aggressive as it is not in their nature.
Women’s nature should not be a deciding factor when sentencing, if particular sentence is rightly appropriate and deserved then it should be served. If the leniency on women offenders keeps being applied, it only means they won’t learn their lesson and will not be deterred in the future to committing crime again. According to a report published in 2010 in the BBC news, statistics showed that re-offending rates by women went up by four times that for men – by 16.4%, compared with 4.2%.
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