The institutionalised nature of the bias

The reason why increasing numbers of men are being incarcerated, despite a falling crime rate, and the reason why the ratio of male to female prisoners is so large and increasing, are easily discovered. They are the result of,

  1. the huge pressure to reduce the number of women sent to prison, and,
  2. the political desire to be seen to be tough on crime by introducing more severe penalties.

The combination of these two objectives inevitably drives gender inequality  because, in view of 1, the tougher penalties called for by 2 can only be inflicted on men. Almost no one within the political process or the criminal justice system is concerned that 1 and 2 together inevitably drive gender inequality. (An honourable exception is MP Philip Davies). The reason is that disadvantage to men is not perceived as inequality as a consequence of the empathy gap.

The pressure to treat women differently, and specifically more leniently, in the criminal justice system (CJS) comes from lobby groups, from within the CJS itself, and from politicians of all stripes. There is no one of influence countering the drive for inequality as described above. All these power centres are content to continue to pursue the “be nice to women and harsh to men” policy. The contributions of some of these power centres are described briefly below.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book

The Equal Treatment Bench Book is published by the Judicial College. It provides advice to judges on how to ensure they are being equitable, not just as regards gender but more generally, so addressing race, religion, sexuality, etc. Each section is headed by a set of bullet points which conveniently capture the main issues to be discussed. The section on gender has these bullet points,

  1. Women remain disadvantaged in many public and private areas of their life; they are underrepresented in the judiciary, in Parliament and in senior positions across a range of jobs; and there is still a substantial pay gap between men and women.
  2. Stereotypes and assumptions about women’s lives can lead to unlawful discrimination.
  3. Factors such as ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, disability status and age affect women’s experience and the types of disadvantage to which they might be subject; assumptions should not be made that all women’s experiences are the same.
  4. Discrimination is often unconscious and based on a person’s own experience and perceptions; it is important to be aware of the wide diversity of women’s experiences.
  5. Women may have particular difficulties participating in the justice system, for example, because of child care issues, and courts may need to consider adjustments to enable women to participate fully.
  6. Women’s experiences as victims, witnesses and offenders are in many respects different to those of men.
  7. As judges, we can go some way to ensuring that women have confidence in the justice process and that their interests are properly and appropriately protected.

The striking thing about these points is that 100% of the concern is focused on women, who make up just 5% of the prison population. Moreover Analysis of gender bias in sentencing data shows that there is huge bias in the CJS against men, which is entirely unacknowledged.

Most of the above bullet points could apply at least equally to men. In the first point, mentioning employment in the judiciary and parliament, and the ‘pay gap’, is blatant feminist politicking. What is it doing in advice on equal treatment? The second point warns against stereotyping women. Do you think that stereotyping might disadvantage men in the CJS? Such as being stereotyped as violent and dangerous, for example? Could that stereotype be related to the far greater numbers of men in prison, do you think? And who has been driving this stereotype for the last 45 years? We are told that “women’s experiences as victims and offenders are different to (sic) those of men”. What they mean by “different” , of course, is “more significant, more deserving of compassion”. And as for the last point, are we to understand that it is not important to ensure that men, 95% of the people in question, “have confidence in the justice process and that their interests are properly and appropriately protected“?

In 2013 they added one final bullet point…

  • Of course, men can suffer from gender discrimination too; this section reflects the reality that this is rarer.

No, it reflects the prejudice that it doesn’t matter. The document is replete with such double standards and inconsistency. For example, we are warned not to fall into the trap of stereotyping people, thus,

Common stereotypical assumptions often applied to all women and men are that….women are primary carers of children

Yet just a few pages later the Equal Treatment Bench Book commits this very sin, advising,

The Prison Service Gender Specific Standards provide guidance on the various stages of custody and consider the needs of different women – such as…..women with children

So, where there is mitigation to be had based on being the carer of a child, this is to apply to women only.

And the Equal Treatment Bench Book contains this infamous quote from the very senior judge, Baroness Hale,

It is now well recognised that a misplaced conception of equality has resulted in some very unequal treatment for the women and girls who appear before the criminal justice system. Simply put, a male-ordered world has applied to them its perceptions of the appropriate treatment for male offenders…. The criminal justice system could … ask itself whether it is indeed unjust to women.”

In other words, treating women the same as we treat men is, we are told, “a misplaced conception of equality“. Well, at least we have identified the source of the problem – and the problem is profound. We are up against a mindset which holds that equality actually means preferential treatment for women. We will see below that this is not merely a widespread mindset, it is almost universal in places of power and influence.

We begin to understand why there is such a huge bias against men in the CJS. It is because this bias is actually written into the advice given to the judiciary as to how to implement “equality”. Worse, it is a cultural norm. When one first comes across this it seems hard to believe after decades of emphasis on “equality”. But after examining other sources of official bias, as we will below, one is forced to accept that we are living in a society with a deep, systemic bias against men.

The Corston Report 

The Corston Report, published by the Home Office in 2007, was a review of women with “particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system”. It was authored by Baroness Jean Corston, one time Bristol Labour MP and now in the House of Lords. Explaining the motivation and background to the report, an Annex by Baroness Scotland of Asthal refers to the deaths of six women in Styal prison. The Annex also draws attention to the fact that the intended author, Baroness Corston, had chaired the Joint Committee on Human Rights and instigated its Inquiry into Deaths in Custody in 2003. The relevance of these observations will emerge below. The Corston Report has been highly influential in directing policy since 2007.

A critique of the 2007 Corston Report can be found here. Baroness Corston’s perspective was essentially that almost all women in prison are vulnerable, and the thrust of her report is that we really should not be putting women in prison at all. A few quotes from the report follow. They are not taken out of context. The context of the Corston Report is faithfully reflected by these sample quotes.

“Equality does not mean treating everyone the same”

That’s “some animals are more equal than others”. Are you beginning to see why men are treated more harshly in the CJS?

“Women must never be sent to prison…to teach them a lesson”

Punishment has always been a valid component of justice. The public and victims alike have a right to expect wrong-doers to be punished. No one would dream of arguing anything different in the context of male offenders. But apparently women are not to be punished.

“Prison is disproportionably (sic) harsher for women because prisons and the practices within them have for the most part been designed for men”

Prisons are harsher for women because they are the same as they are for men. Aristotle would reject that one, I think. What she means, though, is that women must be treated better than men – because they are more equal animals.

All prisons are unpleasant. However, women’s prisons are not as bad as men’s. Evidence for this comes from the cost. The cost per prison place in 2009/10 was £39,719 for men but £56,415 for women.

“Outside prison men are more likely to commit suicide than women but the position is reversed inside prison”

False. Between January 2013 and October 2014, 130 men and 4 women prisoners killed themselves. Even accounting for there being twenty times more male prisoners, this is still a greater per capita rate of suicide amongst male prisoners. Male prisoners commit suicide at 6 times the national average rate. A male prisoner is 23 times more likely to kill himself than a free woman. Do recall that part of the motivation for the Corston Report was the deaths of six women in Styal prison – and further recall that Baroness Corston chaired the 2003 Deaths in Custody enquiry, so she must have had some knowledge of these matters. One is forced to conclude that, in the mindset at work here, the deaths of 130 men is insignificant compared to that of six women. They are just men. They do not matter.

Are you beginning to understand?

The Political Position: Nice to Women, Harsh to Men

The thrust of the recommendations from the Corston Report was to avoid putting women in prison at all. This despite the fact – and it is a fact – that a woman is far less likely to be sent to prison than a man for the same offence (see Analysis of gender bias in sentencing data). In 2012 the Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Service, Women and Equalities Group, told us that “many of these recommendations are now embedded in daily practice”.

The determination not to imprison women is now the obligatory position across the whole political spectrum. In January 2015, the then-Justice minister Simon Hughes wroteHalf the women in jail should not be behind bars”. In June 2015, the Scottish parliament announced that “Scotland is to adopt a new approach to dealing with female offenders with a move towards custody in the community…and action to reduce the numbers of women receiving custodial sentences“. These proposals were said to be backed by capital investment of up to £82 million, which is preposterous given that there were just 415 women in prison in Scotland in June 2015. There are calls to close Morton vale, Scotland’s largest woman’s prison, whilst the plan to build a new woman’s prison in Scotland has been scrapped. In England, in November 2015, the closure was announced of Holloway Prison, the largest women’s prison in western Europe.

If you take a look at the web site of the British Journal of Criminology you will find a monoculture of concern, only for women. Some of the sentiments expressed there, a place which should be impartial, are,

  • Wider society needs to wake up to the harm caused by the criminalisation of women, many of whom have experienced victimisation, harm and marginalisation.” The implication here is that women are not culpable for their offences because they have been turned into criminals by others – for which read men.
  • The criminal justice system is part of a continuum of violence against women.” The contortions of mind required to believe this are frightening. The underlying mindset is that females should never be held responsible for anything, ever. If a woman commits a crime, she’s been made to do it by some man – and putting her in prison is VAWG.
  • Too many women have taken their own lives in prisons. The bloodbath that is the women’s prison estate is a scar on the nation.” Given the far vaster scale of male suicide in prisons, as noted above, this is a particularly nasty bit of gynocentrism. It chills the blood when one realises just how little male suffering matters to people of this mindset (and they are not all women).

Much of the bias is driven by false research and the promulgation of untruths, as it is across all feminist ideology. For example, in May 2015 the Griffins Society advertised for a “researcher”. Oddly no previous research experience was necessary. However, the strap line to the ad made clear the true requirement: “The Griffins Society has a vision where the response of the criminal justice system to women and girls is proportionate, fair and just“. Only those who are committed to “research” which will reinforce this (completely bogus) perspective are welcome to apply.

In July 2015 the Prison Reform Trust, arguing that women are treated more harshly in the CJS, announced that it had won a £1.2M lottery grant to mount a three-year campaign to cut the number of female inmates. Well, I expect that if they had argued that men are treated more harshly in the CJS, as is undoubtedly the case, no funding would have been forthcoming.

Meanwhile, no politician has ever faced his (or her) electorate on a platform of “being soft on crime”. Whilst some politicians may play the crime card harder than others, every one will, if pressed, claim to be in favour of being “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. The last (coalition) government announced in 2012 their “Swift and Sure Justice: The Government’s Plans for Reform of the Criminal Justice System”. There was no going soft on punishment evident here…

  • The public has a right to expect the justice system to be swift and sure…
  • …so that the system can be relied upon to deliver punishment and redress fairly and in accordance with the law and public expectation.”

And in further press releases, we were told that the 2010 to 2015 government policy on sentencing reform included,

  • making sure that sentences are more effective at punishing offenders.

And again in March 2015, the then-Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced a swathe of new offences and sentence measures. He noted,

  • Crime has fallen, serious offenders are going to prison for longer and now we have changed the law to deliver tougher and swifter justice for victims and the public.”

Yes, indeed. The data bears that out (see Key crime and prison data). But if, following the Corston Report and all the massed lobbying since, women are being treated more leniently – and less often subject to punishment -who is it exactly to whom this tougher approach is being applied? That will be men, then. And, for once, we have a political promise which is actually being fulfilled. Increasing numbers of men are indeed in prison, see Key crime and prison data, and the bias against men is indeed getting worse, see Analysis of gender bias in sentencing data. But what we understand now is that this is the inevitable result of inequality being driven by the political process and the various lobby groups and centres of influence, from Corston’s totalitarian “Equality does not mean treating everyone the same” onwards.

International Women’s Day, 2016

To further emphasise how embedded in the centres of power is the inequitable mindset, here are a few extracts from the House of Lords Hansard record from 7th March 2016 (International Women’s Day).

The first female Lord Bishop, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, gave her maiden speech. She started by reminding us that, in her county of Gloucestershire, the lord lieutenant, the high sheriff, the bishop and the chief constable are all women. She went on to say that, because International Women’s Day is about gender parity, and about girls and boys being of equal value, she had “chosen to spend much of Holy Week in Eastwood Park women’s prison”, and, in the context of pupils, she said that “it is concerning that over the past 10 years more young people report not feeling confident about the future, with girls feeling less confident than boys.” 

Baroness Corston did her thing on women in prisons, including repeating the woozle that “each year, about 17,000 children are affected by their mother’s imprisonment“. This is arithmetically impossible, as discussed in Myths regarding women in prison. The Baroness went on to say,

“I made it clear in my report on the vulnerabilities of women in the criminal justice system, The Corston Report, published almost exactly nine years ago, that we needed very few prisons for women but that we needed a network of women’s centres across the country to help these women turn their lives around, become responsible citizens and become people of whom their children could be proud. I pay tribute to the last Labour Government and, in particular, the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, for providing £15 million to help with the establishment of women’s centres, which now number about 50……. This goes to the heart of the fact that the women’s prison population has gone down from about 4,500 in 2006 to around 3,900 now.”

You wouldn’t expect her to mention that in the same period the male prison population has increased from roughly 74,000 to around 82,000. Yes, just the increase in the number of male prisoners over that 9 year period is double the total number of women prisoners. Any men’s centres being thought about, at all? No?

Every voice, across all political parties, was the same – a demand to put fewer women in prison and a willingness to fund it. Whilst it was, admittedly, International Women’s Day, there was no mention that 95% of the prison population were being ignored. The same applied in the House of Commons, some extracts being…

Caroline Dinenage  (MP for Gosport) “I have been clear that I want to see far fewer women ending up in prison. We are committed to improving the treatment of female offenders….. We are keen to learn from any experiences in Scotland and elsewhere in the world that are successful in diverting women away from prison. Here in England and Wales, we have awarded £200,000 of grant funding to pilot earlier and more sequenced interventions with the right sort of multi-agency approach, which should see fewer women ending up in prison for short periods.”

Antoinette Sandbach (MP for Eddisbury) “Research by the Prison Reform Trust shows that female prisoners are far more likely to receive custodial sentences even when they have no previous convictions or cautions.” Another woozle – which is shown to be the opposite of the truth in Myths regarding women in prison. It is immensely distressing that these untruths are being promulgated in the heart of our government, despite Philip Davies having already made parliament aware of the truth. There is an absolute determination to maintain the mythology and reject the facts.

Roger Mullin (MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) “In 2015, the Prison Reform Trust published research suggesting that 32% of women prisoners were borderline learning disabled, compared with 24% of males. Does the Minister agree that community sentencing such as that advocated in Scotland would be more appropriate than prison for such women?” Putting aside any scepticism I might have about data from the Prison Reform Trust, even assuming those percentages to be correct, Mr Mullin seems unconcerned that they imply about 1,248 women who are ‘borderline learning disabled’ compared with an enormous 19,680 men. Why, Mr Mullin, are you concerned only about women, why?

Caroline Dinenage (MP for Gosport) “We know that the women in our prisons are more likely to self-harm than their male counterparts. They are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems, to have drug and alcohol addictions and to have experienced such things as domestic violence and sexual abuse earlier on in their lives.” The pernicious nature of this mindset is that it does not merely point to the suffering of women, but explicitly claims women’s suffering is worse than men’s. Yet in the context of prisons the overwhelmingly most important fact is that 95% of prisoners are men. This means, for example, that it is almost certainly the case that far more men in prison than women have a history, perhaps as children, of being the victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. The prevalence of mental health issues between male and female offenders is not so very different, and far, far greater numbers of affected men are imprisoned than women. And as for drug and alcohol abuse, this is twice as common in men. There are about forty times as many men in prison for this reason than women. This is as good an illustration of the empathy gap as you could wish to see. The mindset which is endemic within our rulers is, perhaps, more sexist than at any time in history.

Joanna Cherry (MP for Edinburgh South West) “The Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland has said: “The emphasis must be on preventing women from becoming caught up in the criminal justice system in the first place, diverting them at the point of arrest and prosecution wherever possible, and reducing the use of remand and short term prison sentences.” (My emphasis). What we have here is a determination from our ruling establishment to drive systematic discrimination in the CJS. It already exists, but there is a determination to make it ever more emphatic. The future is bleak for men in this society – and, as a consequence, bleak for everyone other than the successful, wealthy top few percent.

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