Friday, September 20, 2019

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Article Index

I. Women as a Minority in the Criminal Justice System

      The incarceration rate of women has increased at the alarming pace of over 400 percent between 1986 and 1995. In contrast, the male incarceration rate has increased only 200 percent. Despite the drastic increase in female incarceration rates, it must be understood that the criminal justice system is enforced against men for the benefit of male victims, as women remain a minority of both offenders and victims. This trend continues, as women continue to be the minority in contact with the criminal justice system today.

      The criminal justice system is enforced for the benefit of male victims as women are a minority of victims coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Statistics show that of the crimes reported, women represent a minority of victims of crime. Statistics from 1991 show that men were 123 percent more likely to report being the victim of a robbery, were 161 percent more likely to be the victim of an aggravated assault, and were 74 percent of all homicide victims. Despite this, women traditionally are thought of as the victims of crime. These statistics, however, only represent the number of reported crimes.

      The number of actual victims and its composition of characteristics are unknown because of the vast number of unreported and unprosecuted cases. It is unlikely that women are actually a minority of victims. This discrepancy could be due to the fact that rape is underreported because the victim is just as much on trial as the offender. In addition, police stations have had a policy of not responding to domestic abuse calls. Due to these policies, the perpetrators of crimes towards women are going unpunished, which creates a legal environment where men are overrepresented as victims. This seems to be confirmed partially by current statistics on victims. In 2009, 16 percent more men were victims of violent crime than women. This may be due to the number of recent changes in policy towards domestic violence and rape victims, like mandatory arrest and, therefore, reporting. Thus, despite the stereotypical picture of women as victims, the number of reported female victims has only just begun approaching that of male victims.

      Also, criminal law is mainly enforced against men as they represent a greater percentage of the offenders and the prison population. In 1983, men and boys represented 78 percent of all property offenders and 89 percent of all violent offenders. This overwhelming majority of male offenders translates into a nearly 90 percent majority of the incarcerated population that has remained consistent for the past decade. While the national raw number of incarcerated women went up an alarming amount from 2000 (93,234) to 2010 (112,822), it pales in comparison to the number of men in the system from 2000 (1,298,027) to 2010 Thus, women are still a minority of those against which the criminal laws are enforced.

      This trend holds true in Oklahoma as well. While Oklahoma still has the highest incarceration rate of women (135 in 2010), the incarceration rate of men (1,192 in 2010) is almost ten times higher. It is safe to say that women are a minority of the incarcerated population in the United States and Oklahoma, and, therefore, criminal law has just started to recognize their particular needs as offenders that are also victims, mothers, addicts, and mentally ill.

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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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