I am planning a life of crime, but not of punishment. This week I will steal two magnums of Dom Pérignon, glug both, smash one bottle over the head of a passer-by, get in my car well over the limit and drive into a tree. If you see me on my rampage it may be best to steer clear because I’ll be packing a fork to stab those who interfere.
 
Come my day in court I have an inkling it will be OK, though, because I am a woman, youngish, with a degree: things that seem to act as a forcefield against punishment in our criminal justice system.

Last week we learnt that a junior doctor who had twice been caught drink-driving was to be spared prison. Lauren Fowler, 25, crashed her car and was found slurring and swearing by the police. Less than two months later, while on bail, she was caught three times over the limit after half a bottle of vodka. Recklessly endangering life not once but twice. She called it a “wake-up call”, but must have pressed the snooze button the first time. Yet, after much was made in court of Fowler’s profession and the stress it entails, she received a suspended sentence.

A few weeks ago there was the case of Sophia Brogan-Higgins, a 22-year-old catwalk model who smashed a glass into the forehead of a female security guard in a nightclub, leaving a two-inch wound. One might have assumed that drawing blood means doing bird but no: suspended sentence. 

Rebecca Batchelor was also shown mercy last month. The 21-year-old model had been profiting from her boyfriend’s scheme of defrauding pensioners. Learning that one was being conned out of £5,000 she texted “woooooo, shopping time”. On hearing that another victim would be paying out, she replied: “She better be, the bitch.” The judge described Batchelor as “naive”. Her sentence? Suspended.

Most notoriously there was Lavinia Woodward, the 24-year-old Oxford University student who stabbed her ex-boyfriend in the leg with a bread knife, but was let off with a suspended sentence. Why? According to the judge she is “an extraordinarily able young lady” whose hopes of becoming a surgeon would be damaged by a spell inside. Again, no porridge for the pretty girl.

There is reverse discrimination in the justice system.

 
The Equal Treatment Bench Book has a section on Gender Equality which might be more appropriately titled Gender Special Treatment. It quotes Baroness Hale of Richmond, now the president of the Supreme Court, who argued that ‘a male-ordered world has applied to [women] its perceptions of the appropriate treatment for male offenders” and said:
 
‘The criminal justice system could . . . ask itself whether it is indeed unjust to women.’ It also suggests that those sentencing must be ‘made aware of the differential impact sentencing decisions have on women and men.’ All of which implies that if a man and woman have committed the same crime, the woman should be treated with more ‘understanding’ and leniency. Her sex is a mitigating factor in itself.
 

It is no surprise, therefore, that according to the criminal justice figures from 2015, men were almost twice as likely to be put into immediate custody for an indictable offense as women. Under similar criminal circumstances, men were 88 per cent more likely to be sent to prison. For vehicle-related theft as a first offense, men were three times more likely to be imprisoned. For violence against the person, again as a first offense, it was almost three times as likely. Across the categories men were much more likely to do time for a first offense.

Bust shot of Foges in red top. She alleges reverse discrimination in the justice system.

Foges alleges reverse discrimination in the justice system.

Of course, there are good arguments for not [locking up women]  for trivial offenses. Principally that they are often mothers whose imprisonment can devastate a family. But when the crimes are violent, or serious, justice must apply equally to all. This is the fundamental principle that underpins confidence in our legal system: whether you are male, female, rich, poor, old, young, black, white, all are treated equally.

Already this principle is being undermined by concept of “hate” crime, which means that the suffering of some victims is taken more seriously on account of their sex, race or sexuality. Cases like those above reinforce the impression of a two-tier system, in which young, well-to-do women skip the punishment that some male, rougher customer would have had to take for the same crime.

This is maddening for victims. If I was informed that someone I love had been glassed, stabbed, scammed or killed by a drink-driver, I would care little about the responsible party’s sex, age or profession. The criminal justice system is there, partly, to afford victims some proper retribution, and this matters whether the offender is a doctor, a catwalk model or a famous ping pong player.

Showing female defendants more leniency does nothing for the cause of genuine equality, either. We can’t argue that men and women should be treated as equals in everything except justice. Seeing women as less culpable for serious crime is oddly infantilizing, suggesting that such behavior simply must be an aberration in our sugar-and-spice make-up.

If equality is to mean anything, it has to cut both ways: just as you mustn’t be discriminated against by officialdom on account of your sex so you mustn’t be privileged either. For the sake of all women, Lady Justice must keep her blindfold on and her impartiality intact.”

Foges

Problems with the  idea of reverse discrimination in the justice system.

       As I hinted at earlier, there is a problem when one looks deeper into the Starr study that seems to buttress Foges’ assertion that there’s reverse discrimination in the justice system in England. It is that Starr conducted her Michigan study using sentences of just Federal offenders. There are far and away many more State and Local offenders. They are more typical of offenders, too.

  • Another problem is only a percentage of crimes come to our attention. There’s a hidden, “dark  figure” of crimes committed, unreported, and therefore responded to “leniently,” i.e., not at all.  Since more males than females are involved in crime in general, males get off “easier” more often than do females.
  • Furthermore, as Foges admits, she is a woman, youngish, educated, and I must add, “attractive” as well. So, having labeled her as she’s labeled the UK women featured in her article, we’re being anecdotal rather than statistical…just like her. No matter that there are similar attractive defendants in the US (oft celebrities) who also “walk free” in well-publicized cases (think Lindsay Lohan).

    The statistical fact is there are countless average-looking “real” women from all walks of life arrested and sentenced every day.  Some of these are lifelong criminals, some are drug addicts/alcoholics/abusers, some make stupid mistakes, some know what they are doing, and even some are found guilty of crimes they haven’t committed.

  • Finally, there’s a reason some crim justice systems bring in probation dept reports and psych experts pre-sentence. Why?  ‘Cuz multiple variables must be considered since crimes, victims, and offenders are rarely the same in toto. Customization’s required in non-standardized situations.

    Your thoughts about reverse discrimination in the justice system?