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Offenders and Sentencing by Gender: Are Females Treated Differently?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Is there a Gender Gap in Crime and Sentencing?

The gender gap in crime and sentencing is a pressing issue. It is a reflection of the inequality between males and females in society and of our cultural biases. This gender gap can be seen in the types of crimes committed, as well as the average sentence length for those convicted. This gender inequality has been seen across different types of crimes, from sexual misconduct in schools, to violent and drug-related offenses. This article will explore how offenders are treated differently based on their gender and how this affects the length of sentences they receive for committing a crime.

The Different Types of Crimes Committed by Males & Females

Studies have shown differences in the severity of crimes committed by both men and women, as well as the average sentence lengths they receive. Men are more likely to commit serious crimes than women, and receive harsher sentences for them than women. A 2006 study from Rodriguez, Curry & Lee, found that the effect of gender on sentencing does vary by crime type, but not in a consistent or predicted fashion. For both property and drug offenses, females are less likely to be sentenced to prison and also receive shorter sentences if they are sentenced to prison. For violent offending, however, females are no less likely than males to receive prison time, but for those who do, females receive substantially shorter sentences than males.

The types of crimes committed by men and women can vary greatly, ranging from violent offenses such as murder or rape to nonviolent offenses such as fraud. However, regardless of the type of crime committed, there is an undeniable disparity between men and women in terms of sentencing lengths and severity. This is largely due to gender identity and how our society views men and women differently when it comes to criminal behavior.

How Does Gender Affect Length of Sentence?

The length of a prison sentence can vary dramatically based on gender. Gender roles and stereotypes have long been used to determine the severity of punishment for certain crimes. For instance, “masculine traits” such as aggression are often seen in more serious offenses, while femininity is viewed as less threatening and therefore contributes to lighter sentences. This disparity in sentencing has been linked to gender identity, with those who identify as male often receiving longer sentences than those who identify as female, with some studies finding that transgender individuals are more likely to receive longer sentences than cisgender individuals. Additionally, research has found that the varying lengths of prison sentences are influenced by other factors such as race, class, and other social identities. To read more about these disparities check out Mitchell and Mackenzie’s 2004 analysis “The Relationship between Race, Ethnicity, and Sentencing Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis of Sentencing Research.”

A great example of unequal sentencing between genders is sexual misconduct of students by school personnel. A 2018 study by Henchel and Grant (yours truly) located 361 arrest records for sexual misconduct cases through the year 2014. They charted offender, victim, school and crime severity characteristics and came to the conclusion that women do in fact receive smaller sentences and fewer months probation than men. We must keep in mind, though, the differences in crimes committed by these two groups of people. The Henchel and Grant study found that men are more likely to have a wider offender/victim age-gap, multiple victims and prior convictions; and these factors play heavily into sentencing.

Gender Bias - Examining its Role in Unequal Sentencing

Gender bias can manifest itself in many forms. Gender stereotypes and bias against gender identity can contribute to differences in sentencing between men and women, particularly in sexual misconduct cases. This unequal sentencing can have serious repercussions, as it creates an unfair system where individuals are not treated equally regardless of their gender. It is important to note that this does not necessarily mean that all judges and prosecutors are biased; however, it does suggest that there is an unequal system in place when it comes to sentencing based on gender. A Star-Ledger analysis of 97 sexual misconduct cases in New Jersey between 2003 and 2013 revealed significant disparities in sentencing times. Men were more likely to be sent to jail and more likely to receive longer sentences than females. "There’s a general societal disposition that does continue to treat women as the gentler sex, so typically the threshold for sending women to prison is higher," said Martin Horn, director of the New York State Sentencing Commission and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. See the chart below for the data from the analysis:

Exploring the Gender Gap in the Criminal Justice System

Gender plays a significant role in the sentencing of offenders. Research shows that men are more likely to be charged with a crime and receive harsher sentences than women, regardless of their criminal history or the severity of the offense. Furthermore, men are more likely to be incarcerated for longer periods of time than women. We can see this directly from the Henchel and Grant study and the differences in sentencing for men and women who commit sexual misconduct in schools. This disparity in sentencing is due to a number of factors, including gender bias in the criminal justice system and societal expectations about gender roles and behaviors. This discrepancy in sentence length has been widely studied and debated, as it raises questions about the fairness of the criminal justice system.

Sexual misconduct is a concerning issue that affects our students - an estimated 1 in 10 will experience sexual misconduct by the time they graduate from high school (Shakeshaft, 2004). Offenders, and their victims, can be of any gender identity. Contact McGrath Training Solutions to learn more about the trainings we offer for school districts to best prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.


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