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Are men and women treated differently in the Criminal Justice System and does this matter?

Essay question: ‘Are men and women treated differently in the Criminal
Justice System and does this matter?’
In this essay, I will be discussing about how men and women are treated in the Criminal Justice
System. This is an interesting topic because it is a very broad one, as both genders are part of
different roles, such as victims and witnesses, judges, the probation service and the police. As a
result of these diverse roles, many views, opinions and statistics can be gathered from all parts of
the Criminal Justice System.
The first section of the essay will be about how males and females are not treated differently, and
are treated the same. I will provide examples of gender equality from different parts of the Criminal
Justice System (CJS) process. The second section will be a counter argument against what I have
stated in the first section, that both genders are treated differently within the CJS. Lastly, I will
conclude the essay with my own inference on the topic, stating if men and women should be treated
Section 1:
The history of gender equality has transformed the treatment that people receive today. Prior to the
early 20th century, the UK treated women as slaves, men were the dominant gender, and that
women had to stay at home and do the chores all day. It was not until the late 19th century when the
suffragettes movement wanted the right for women to vote, and the movement was successful after
their efforts during the First World War (WWI). Women over the age of 30 were able to vote in the
year of 1918, and those over the age of 21 in 1928. It was not until this time when women’s entry
into policing was promoted in the UK. Female victims wanted to feel protected and treated fairly,
and they did not think this objective was being met with an all-male police force (Maguire, et al.
At present, although one in four police officers are women, the number of females within the police
is starting to increase, especially with the latest recruits joining UK police forces. In 2013, the
government published statistics based on the rise of females within the police force, that ‘there
were 35,471 female officers out of 129,956 officers in the 43 forces of England and Wales,
representing 27.3% percent of the total, compared with 26.8% in March 2012’ (Government
website). These statistics show that each year, females are becoming more equally treated, and that
men are not as dominant as they have been in the past.
Today, we have many different departments within the Criminal justice System that deal with
different parts of a case. The Crown prosecution Service (CPS) was established in 1985, and has
important roles and responsibilities to ensure fair treatment for everyone. One of their aims are to
help and monitor all offenders and prisoners regardless of gender throughout their cases, in addition
to supporting them during rehabilitation and community work. When working in the local
community, prisoners and offenders are provided with this opportunity, which will benefit them for
future employment because working within the local community will require social responsibility.
The work may involve working with the elderly, participating in sports activities, and working with
disabled people. This shows that both genders of all ages are provided with the help and treatment
they need for when they are placed into society again.
During the court process, both victims and defendants have CPS lawyers to support them, which
shows that both males and females are treated fairly because Lawyers advise them and take their
side in the case to achieve justice. Lawyers play an important role because they are like family during
court procedures, which means that they will take care of any concerns or queries that the individual
has, and would resolve any problems or issues that may arise during such a difficult and stressful
period. Lawyers aim to treat people without judgements and ensure that the person is not feeling
anxious, worried or nervous prior to the court process. This suggests that lawyers have many roles
when being involved in a case, because in addition to being called a ‘lawyer’, they also play other
roles such as a councillor, a temporary guardian, role model and even a short-term ‘parent figure’.
The roles of a lawyer suggest to us that both victims and defendants are reliant on them, thus
lawyers play a crucial role.
Once defendants have received prison sentences, both males and females can be treated fairly in
prisons, their entry levels into custody similar, but the category of the prison suitable for them will
depend on the seriousness of the case. Although they may have different rehabilitative programmes
to suit each gender, both males and females have the same opportunity to change their lives.
Additionally, within custody, selected prisoners, known as Samaritans, are trained to listen to fellow
prisoners who experience emotional distress, which may result to self-harm or suicide. All prisoners
would also have chances to receive bonus rewards such as extra pocket money if they behave well;
the scheme that does this is called the “Incentives and Privilege Scheme”. It aims to reward good
behaviour, and additionally take away privileges if the levels of behaviour are found to be
inconsistent, e.g. televisions will be taken away if good behaviour is not maintained. This scheme
also aims to work with prisoners and youth offenders in order to improve their behaviour so that
they can develop and progress through the system.
Section 2:
At some stages during the Criminal Justice System process, both males and females can be treated
differently. Sometimes, judges can abuse their powers, because they know that they make the final
decision on the length of a sentence. This suggests that they think they have superiority over each
individual and thinking that defendants are deemed to be at a lower status than the members of the
CJS are, which is evidence of inequality, which could lead to status frustration.
In addition, judges can be described as negatively hedonistic towards male defendants by giving
them harsher sentences. However, there are some judges that are too magnanimous towards
female defendants, as ‘women are less likely than men to be sent to prison for equivalent offences
and when they go to prison, they tend to serve shorter sentences’ (Croall, 2011). This relates to the
chivalry theory, that the police and the courts are predominantly male, and are over-protective
towards females, treating them with more respect and have a gracious attitude towards them. This
suggests that there is an element of disparity in regards to both genders because female judges
could decide to give sentences, which are different for both genders that have committed the same
Alternatively, because there are more males than females being sentenced every year, this suggests
that men dominate the Criminal Justice and prison system. In 1979, Holloway prison was opened on
the basis that it was a psychiatric institution, which suggested that it was not normal for women to
commit crime, thus people believed that all females that were known as criminals, all had mental
Nineteen years later in 1998, the Chief Inspector for prisons alongside the prison Reform Trust (PRT)
conducted an unannounced visit to the Holloway Prison and were disgusted by what they observed.
The PRT stated that ‘the Criminal Justice and prison system is so dominated by the handling of men
that it is failing to provide for the particular needs of women’ (PRT 2000: xii). This can relate to the
corston report when six women died at Styal prison, located in Styal, Cheshire, England, which
eventually led to higher concentration on out-lining the need for strategic, different and women-
centred approach towards females, which suggests that women are vulnerable within the CJS, thus
need more attention and require extra protection. This replicates how males receive harsher
sentences than women do; but they receive more treatment than women do, thus are believed to
be priorities of the Criminal Justice System.
Females sporadically commit crime, and when they commit crime, they break, transgressed and
gender norms. When informal sanctions have been considered, women feel that they have been
subject to double stigmatization, meaning that they have been doubly punished e.g. failing to be a
mother AND an offender. A failure to be a mother can relate to the fact that children can be the
‘hidden victims of a parent’s imprisonment’ because ‘many countries make provision for babies and
young children to stay in prison with their mothers up to a certain age’ (Penal Reform website). This
can lead to physical and emotional impacts towards an individual during their childhood.
Additionally, women only make up around 5% of the UK prison population, which reflects in the
limited amount of female prisons across England and Wales. Therefore, women can feel as if they
are being subject to double stigmatization this way.
The (Fawcett Society) states that ‘a sentence of intermittent custody could doubly punish women if
they have to travel further distances than men, because of the geographical spread of women’s
prisons’. This shows that the government are not doing their best to cater for females in contrast to
how they cater for males. As a result, this shows that there is an element of maltreatment towards
females within the Criminal Justice system, meaning that there could be a mixture of patriarchy and
hegemonic masculinity, meaning that the majority of the government is male dominant, full of
power and authority, making women look powerless and outnumbered.
Overall, the Criminal Justice System think they require a higher level of operant conditioning
(reinforcement/punishment to shape behaviour) to act as a deterrent for men to prevent recidivism
(re-offending), and more community work and cautions for women. This suggests that the Criminal
Justice System has a classicist approach towards men and a positivistic approach towards women.
This leads to my view on gender treatment, which is that we all should be treated the same because
being male or female does not make us different, in fact, we are all human, we have the same rights,
freedom and sentiments as everyone else. Gender treatment matters because if one gender is
treated more lenient than the other is, then those of the opposing gender could feel dominated,
isolated and marginalised by the Criminal Justice System.
Croall, H. (2011) Crime and Society in Britain, page 189, London: Longman.
PRISON REFORM TRUST (PRT) (2000), Justice for women: The Need for Reform, Report of the
Committee on Women’s Imprisonment. Chaired by Professor Dorothy Wedderburn, London,
Prison Reform Trust.
Maguire, M., Morgan, R and Reiner, P. (2007) The Oxford handbook of Criminology (4th ed.) page
397. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Crime and Society in Britain
  • H Croall
Croall, H. (2011) Crime and Society in Britain, page 189, London: Longman.