Study Finds Criminal Courts More Lenient on Women

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Criminal JusticeFrom Initial Appearance to Sentencing: Do Female Defendants Experience Disparate Treatment? — there are definite gender disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system and women are generally the beneficiaries of that disparity.

Researchers at the University of West Florida and the University of Cincinnati analyzed 3,593 felony cases from a large urban jurisdiction in the northern U.S. They looked at outcomes during two key phases of the criminal justice process: during a defendant’s first appearance and during sentencing.

Here’s what they found:

  • Women are 46% less likely to be jailed prior to trial.
  • Women released on bond were given 54% lower bond amounts than men had to pay.
  • Women were 58% less likely to be sentenced to prison than men.
  • When women were sentenced to prison, there was not much gender disparity in the length of the prison sentence as compared with men. However, there were disparities when broken down by specific crimes. For a theft conviction, women received longer sentences than men. For other property offenses — including arson, breaking and entering, receiving stolen property, etc. — women received shorter prison sentences.
  • While both black and white women were equally likely to be released prior to trial, black women were given higher bond amounts and were more likely to be sentenced to prison than white women.

The researchers theorize that judges may be more inclined to be more lenient toward women who conform to the traditional gender roles of wife and mother. The researchers noted that they had found support for the “evil woman” theory, suggesting that judges feel more protective towards women who are docile and dependent and are more inclined to punish women they believe would be helped by a tougher sentence.

The authors of the study suggested that policymakers consider how to standardize the judicial process to reduce these disparities, including constraining judges’ discretionary powers, especially at the first hearing.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a boutique law firm focusing on large, complex business and criminal financial-related litigation, including white collar criminal defense, securities fraud, health care fraud investigation, criminal appeals and state criminal defense. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244or