Women have made significant contributions to the men of this world. They have taken part in struggles for social change, and in many instances, have played key roles in shaping society more than men have. There is a persistent myth that women are somehow exempt from having to deal with the problems that come with a criminal justice system. While it is true that women have traditionally been under-represented in positions of power within the legal system, that does not mean that women are immune from experiencing the same dangers and problems that all people face when arrested and charged with a crime.
Throughout history, women have faced discrimination in every part of life. Laws that were intended to benefit women and other minorities have been routinely passed by men. Women’s suffrage did nothing to eradicate men’s control over women’s institutions, including the police and courts. Throughout the United States, women have fought hard to gain the right to vote and have, to some degree, achieved their rights. But one thing that has remained an enigma to many Americans is the role that women and criminal justice play in the criminal justice system.
The United States has one of the highest incidences of violent home attacks in the world. Women are the subject of brutal sexual assault, and domestic violence is on the rise. Many of the victims of these attacks have been children, and while no one would dispute the fact that women are frequently perpetrators of these crimes, the question remains as to why women are still prosecuted and convicted at such high rates. One possible reason for the over-policing of women is the attitude of law enforcement and prosecutors who see women and criminal justice as weaker than men. Over the last few decades, much attention has been paid to studying the relationships between gender and crime, but little effort has been made investigating the attitudes of the people who shape the decision of how much space a woman or a minority will have in a potentially aggressive society.
One of the most important questions about women and criminal justice in the United States is whether or not the current focus on women’s issues and the women’s movement has failed. Many of the goals of the women’s movement were met, to varying degrees. Health care and educational opportunities for women were expanded; discrimination against women in employment and public accommodations was lessened. But some of the goals were missed, especially when it came to creating more equal opportunities for women in the workplace. In some industries, the percentage of women employed in major positions is decreasing, and some industries, such as nursing, are still overwhelmingly male.
Some of the factors responsible for this trend are ingrained in society and are not likely to change. It is difficult to change ingrained cultural attitudes towards gender equality and women. The criminal justice system, which is part of our society, continues to treat women poorly. And while some things cannot be changed through social change, things like the number of women in prison, the disproportionate number of women in custody, and the disproportionate number of females in prison have been made worse by systemic problems, such as poverty and lack of educational opportunities.
So, what does this mean for women’s criminal justice policies and practices? A major step towards combating gender discrimination and promoting women’s rights is to increase representation of women in all levels of government, from local to federal government. Women and other people of color should make up a significant portion of our judges and legal officers. More women should be appointed to federal benches throughout the country. And women and people of color who serve in peace and law enforcement are also essential components of our legal systems.
Another step is to increase funding for programs that help women and girls escape abusive relationships and learn how to escape them. There is a lot of support for these programs, but there are no funds available to provide programming specifically for women and girls. Programs that address this need are urgently needed. Other programs addressing the needs of women and girls are also necessary, including those dealing with the criminal justice system and issues that affect women and girls. Some organizations that focus on women and criminal justice issues have formed women-specific groups that bring women and girls together.
These groups focus on areas of importance to women, such as violence against women and girls, employment and education, and health. Groups like this help to create forums where women can discuss their experiences and build support for the women and girls in their community. And the Women and Criminal Justice Program at George Warren College provides a unique opportunity for students to study women’s issues and law as it applies to women’s criminal justice issues today.