Reducing the Gender Disparity in Incarceration: A Thought Experiment
According to the latest figures, 93.3% of federal prisoners are men. The male to female incarceration rate is also wildly lopsided in state and county facilities, and to my knowledge, pretty much everywhere else in the world. I also am unable to think of a single example where there is reason to believe that women outnumber men in jails and prisons. Furthermore, I don’t see any particular reason why incarcerated men will not continue to outnumber incarcerated women as long as there are prisons or people.
Before I go on with this thought experiment, allow me to provide full disclosure. I was born and raised and continue to be a male. My parents and my wife are willing to corroborate the details should anyone wish to delve more deeply. It is also relevant to note that the only incarceration facility whose inside I have seen in real life is the Alcatraz, but it was decommissioned as a prison well before I was born.
Now, despite my male identification and my desire to remain unincarcerated, I have no problems whatsoever with the lopsided ratio of men v. women in our prisons and jails. I think there’s a good reason for the ratio to be what it is. (If you want to argue that there are too many, or too few guests of the state, that’s a different issue outside the scope of this post.) I suspect most of us are better off with the male to female incarceration ratio being in the ballpark of what it is. See, it turns out that men commit more crime than women. A lot more crime. And a lot more violent crime. That not only is true today, it has been true for as long as there is has been a concept of crime.
Does it diminish me as a guy to state that fact – that men are far more likely to be criminals than women – baldly? Not as far as I can see. How am I being hurt by the fact that men are incarcerated more frequently than women? Well, provided I am not one of those men engaging in crime, not much, if at all. I am more likely to get the jaundiced eye from any random law enforcement officer, which in turn may mean less I am more likely to be searched, and possibly even falsely suspected of crimes than a randomly selected woman. I note that I also benefit, to some extent, from the fact that men like me are watched more carefully than women like my wife. After all, men are not just disproportionately the perpetrators of most crimes. They are also disproportionately represented among the victims of many crimes, particularly most violent crimes such as murder. But I suspect that the effect of men being subject to extra scrutiny (or worse) is not large enough to put a dent in the ratio of crimes committed by men v. the crimes committed by women.
The converse is also true – I don’t see much gain to the women from the fact that men are more likely to be more incarcerated than women. Nor does the gender difference in incarceration affect the likelihood of any single individual ending up in jail.
But the fact that men are more likely to commit crimes does have real world effects. Anecdotally (and autoethnographically?), every time I share an elevator with a woman I don’t know, I make an effort to stay glued to the wall, and I do my best to look non-threatening. Why? Well, common courtesy. Because women do have something to fear from being in an enclosed space with a guy they don’t know. And I would hope that if enough people behave with common courtesy, the women in my life will also get the benefit of such courtesy from men they don’t know when they find themselves on an elevator.
Note that threats can appear from everywhere. Men also can be attacked by women, but crime statistics indicate that a man has less to fear from a woman he doesn’t know than vice versa. That said, while I have noticed the “unthreatening” look on many men’s faces and posture on an elevator, I don’t believe I have ever seen it on a woman. Perhaps if a woman were to do so it might come across, to the wrong man, as a show of weakness and invite violence. There are, after all, a not insignificant number of dangerous men out there.
Beyond the elevator situation, there are also some other courtesies I extend to women that I don’t extend to men. As one example, if I am walking behind a woman who is wearing a skirt and she begins walking up stairs, I will hang back until she is well up the stairs before continuing up myself. Alternatively, I will move quickly, taking the stairs three at a tie to get around her. As far as I know, it isn’t illegal for a guy to walk up a flight or two of stairs with his eyes staring straight ahead buttocks-level. But it also isn’t hard to noodle out that doing so would make many women uncomfortable. So once again, a small change of behavior qualifies as common courtesy.
But let’s get back to incarceration rates. Let us say it became perceived as unfair that more men are incarcerated than women. Perhaps a situation arises where people would insist there is no real difference between female and male behavior, and if there is a difference in incarceration outcomes, it must be due to society imposing an extra burden on males. That might lead to society seeking to arrive at a 50-50 incarceration ratio between men and women.
Of course, that would be a commendable social goal if the commission of the types of crimes that lead to incarceration were equal among men and women. But what if the crime ratio was still lopsided as the one we observe today? In that case, to achieve incarceration parity, we would have two options. One would be to release 86 male prisoners for every 93 men that are currently incarcerated. Another would be to incarcerate an extra 86 female prisoners for every 7 women who are currently incarcerated. (Technically, we could do something between the two scenarios, but I will ignore that option for that essay.)
Neither of those ways of achieving a 50-50 balance is healthy. The first will lead to letting out a lot of people who probably belong in jail, which will result in more crime against innocent victims. The second option leads to incarcerating a lot of people who shouldn’t be in jail. Leaving aside how we collectively decide which innocent women should be incarcerated in order to achieve the desired balance, there will be a huge personal cost on many women (and their families). It will also hurt the economy in the process.
If there is no observed change in the Male to Female ratio of criminality, a substantial change in the incarceration ratio is more likely to cause quite a bit harm than good. To change the male incarceration rate without causing harm, the male criminality rate must also be reduced.
But there is also one other fact to consider. A world in which a) serious crimes are committed by males in wildly disproportionate rates, and b) society was seeking to achieve a 50-50 incarceration rate will have little or no serious discussion about point a. After all, admitting that criminals are disproportionately male (which is a very different thing than stating that all or even most males are criminals) is also an admission that the desired incarceration rate is hard to achieve. Worse, looking into why the crime rate is so much higher among men and women could lead to the unfortunate conclusion that the only way to achieve social goals is for the justice system to come down on women much harder than it comes down on men. This is a hard conclusion to stomach, and it leads to cognitive dissonance since the whole point of 50-50 incarceration is, presumably, to make society more fair. And really, there is only one way to deal with cognitive dissonance: a mountain of self-righteous outrage would be heaped on anyone who pointed out the mutual contradictions or why they exist. It is hard to imagine a world where points a and b are simultaneously true, but with a bit of effort most of us could probably come up with its broad outlines.
Thank you, EMichael, for demonstrating the self-righteous outrage.
You mean self righteous confusion? Not that the subject doesn’t seem beyond the outer limits, but you need to take a class or twenty in writing.
I’d suggest really working on your leads, though in your defense I am not sure there can be a lead to this, this, whatever it is.
“When writing an article, you should gather and sort out all information. However, your work will go down the drain if you submit this information in the way that nobody wants to read it. By following these few tips, you can conduct research or compose an investigative paper that will interest readers and make reading very enjoyable for everyone.
1. Write a good lead.
Lead is a prelude to your article, which should entice a potential reader. The success of your work depends on a lead. Write an excellent entry, so your article will be a success. If you write a dull lead, then all your work will be useless. The first paragraph of the article briefly tells what will be discussed further. The lead must not contain more than 35-40 words and should be interesting enough to readers, so that he/she would like to read the rest of the text.”
Forgive me. I am even more confused now. I do not claim to be a great writer, but I would think the lede was clear. The title of the post is “Reducing the Gender Disparity in Incarceration: A Thought Experiment.” So it should be obvious this is about reducing the gender disparity in incarceration.
I then spend the first paragraph noting how extreme this disparity happens to be, that it exists everywhere, has existed for as long as we have records, and will continue to exist.
Again, I am not a great writer, but that isn’t how you go about burying your lede unless the post turns out to be about taxidermy or ice cream.
I then went on to provide some examples – anecdotal and otherwise – as to the effects of gender disparity. From there, I provided two possible ways to end gender disparity in incarceration. The math is simple – I don’t believe there are any mistakes. I also noted what I thought the consequences would be to following each of those solutions. Again – if there are errors, I don’t see them.
It seems clear that the issue is not with the veracity of what I wrote, nor even that I failed to make my point. To be honest, I suspect the issue you have with the post is this:
Now, what is it about the gender disparity in incarceration that makes the topic beyond the outer limits? Are there other topics that are off limits? Where can I get the list of issues I should avoid, or conclusions I should not reach no matter how supported by data they might be? And who decided all of this?
A title is not the lead. If you are free to post columns on your choice of topics, then I am free to comment on your choice of topics. If I could have stopped you from posting, I would have done it a long time ago.
Maybe I will suggest a topic for you.
Reducing the Racial Disparity in Sickle Cell Disease: A Thought Experiment; Or How To Increase Sickle Cell Disease in Hispanic-Americans
“Sickle Cell Disease. The exact number of people living with SCD in the U.S. is unknown. Working with partners, the CDC supports projects to learn about the number of people living with SCD to better understand how the disease impacts their health.
It is estimated that:
SCD affects approximately 100,000 Americans.
SCD occurs among about 1 out of every 365 Black or African-American births.
SCD occurs among about 1 out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American births.
About 1 in 13 Black or African-American babies is born with sickle cell trait (SCT).”
Reducing the racial disparity in sickle cell disease is a commendable goal if (and only if) it is accomplished by reducing the rate of sickle cell disease in people of African descent. But while it is a commendable topic, my limited knowledge of genetics doesn’t allow me to say anything useful about how to solve the problem. If someone else wrote that post, I would probably read it to try to learn something.
As to your suggestion about suggesting ways of increasing sickle cell among Hispanic Americans – I cannot imagine any benefits of increasing the rate of sickle cell disease (or any other disease) in any population group. As I noted in the post I did write, simply increasing the rate at which a population that is relatively un-affected by problem X with X does not lead to any good outcomes.
You still haven’t pointed me toward the list of topics you would suggest I should avoid.
Avoid anything to do with genes.
You know, Kimel, you should just give it up.
And, by the way, repeatedly bringing your wife into these discussions as some sort of cover for your sexist bigotry is a rather bad look — if not plain cowardly.
How about achieving equality of incarceration for non violent drug related offenses or why the opioid problem is a national emergency and the crack epidemic was not. Or maybe you could engage in a thought experiment to explain our president’ deploring violence and bigotry on all sides when it was a white supremacist who killed an anti white supremacist? You know if you are not offering constructive solutions you are part of the problem and we are in Edmund Burke territory now.
Now I am really confused. The topic you told me to cover is clearly gene-related. And the topic of this post isn’t. I never mentioned genes. Yeah, the male female difference is due to differences in chromosomes, and the X chromosome contains a lot more genes than the Y chromosome, but if this post was on genes than anything involving human beings is a post on genes.
But it pays to be transparent. Sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant. What is it about genes that should be avoided? Everything, or just specific issues? And should everyone avoid the topic, or does that not include geneticists?
I ask these questions because I am a bit concerned. Several times in the past I mentioned a review by Steven Pinker (https://newrepublic.com/article/77727/groups-and-genes). Pinker was commenting a paper by Cochran, Hardy and Harpending. CH&H reached some unsettling conclusions about group differences in intelligence. (Cochran and Harpending would go on to expand on the topic with the 10,000 Year Explosion.)
Now, that might be a topic many people might want to sweep under the rug. But, as Pinker pointed out:
Its been a while since I read the Pinker review or the CH&H study (or the 10,000 Year Explosion for that matter) but as I recall, the genetic diseases being looked at included Sickle Cell (which you mention upthread), as well as Tay Sachs, Torsion Dystonia and Gauchers.
Put another way… if we allow scientists to do research on topics we find commendable, such as reducing the incidence of Sickle Cell and Tay Sachs, their findings will also apply to topics we find to be more unfortunate. The only way we prevent bad facts from coming to light is to prevent research on topics we want since you can’t disentangle “good facts” from “bad facts.” Is that really where we want to go?
damn, just damn
” Yeah, the male female difference is due to differences in chromosomes, and the X chromosome contains a lot more genes than the Y chromosome”
True enough, but I fail to see the relevance. Males have an X chromosome, too. While females have two X chromosomes, one is inactivated in every somatic cell, so X chromosome dosage is nominally the same in males and females vis a vis function. I know of no evidence showing that X chromosome dosage is mechanistically linked with criminal behavior or with any of the skills being sought by Google.
Not to put too fine a point on it, human males and females differ in blood concentrations of estrogen and testosterone, potent hormones that science has shown conclusively influence behavior. Whether that difference in hormones has a aignificant effect on the potential to master the skills sought by Google has not, to my knowledge, been demonstrated in a rigorous peer reviewed study. But I’m happy to be educated on this topic. Take all the time you need.
I used to pay more attention to politics than I do now, watching CSPAN regularly, etc. And I remember remember this speech. It sounded to me, at the time, like one of the few things GHW was doing right. I also remember the reaction in some circles, and how doing anything about it was racist.
The one who brought up genes in this thread was EMichael. I was pointing out that if this post deals with genes, then pretty much every post that deals with human behavior can be said to deal with genes. Additionally, it seems that you were the one to bring up hormones in this thread. This post doesn’t deal with genes. Or hormones. Or google or programming. That was a different post. But if you want to explain why Google Code Jam winners look the way they do, have at it. But be sure your explanation fits the known facts.
My comments stand. I quoted your words. I responded to your words.
Why do you think 59% of the prison population is minority?
I haven’t checked it but I assume your figure is correct. I think to answer that question, I have to note that in general, criminals tend to prey on people with whom they interact. For most crimes, there is a strong physical component, which means that criminals are physically interacting with their victims. Put another way – the perpetrators of crimes tend to live and work in close proximity as their victims.
Forgive me if the rest of the answer sticks to mostly to homicide, but it is the only area of crime in which I have spent any time looking at numbers and therefore the only area of crime at which I have any confidence putting forward an answer. Minorities are over-represented in homicide. But that isn’t just on the perpetrator side. It is also on the victim side. In other words – the answer to your question is: “society cares about and would like to reduce the number of people in minority populations who get victimized by crime.”
But don’t take my word for it. Do the thought experiment yourself. Pick a city with an elevated murder rate. Here is a news story I found with the top 25. Ask yourself what would happen, who would suffer, if the local government in any of those cities could credibly commit to not imprisoning minorities for murder at a rate that is disproportionate to their share of the population. Then run the tape forward.
As I said, I don’t really have any familiarity with data on crimes other than homicide. Still, I would assume it applies more broadly. To the best of my ability to recall details, it applies to drugs. Contra Terry upthread, there was a war on crack and the goal of the war on crack was to address the deteriorating criminal situation in some predominantly Black neighborhoods. (The war on crack also included a strong educational component – remember characters in kid’s shows in the 80s and “say nope to dope and ugh to drugs”?) I remember the stories in the news about how grandmothers couldn’t walk out of their house because drug dealers had set up shop on their front stoop, and how crack was decimating the Black community.
I believe I am the only one here who has been through the court systems all the way to SCOTUS and the only one who has been in a level 3, 2, and 1 prison. I believe I have a pretty good idea on what goes on there, how the court system stifles justice and the truth, and how parole works.
– I do not have a great liking for attorneys having one steal $20,000 from us and lie to the court.
– One University of California system Dean of the School of Law took our case through the Federal courts.
– The data you are using is incomplete. There are no truly accurate numeric for shootings and homicides as police departments have not reported everything even though by law they are supposed to do so. Then too and as seen in many instances, there is a court for minorities, a court for white folk, and another court of officers of the court. The police “will” lie in court and the court will back them up.
– My numbers from my own words written here at Angry Bear and from my reading. 85% to 90% of all court cases are plea bargained.
– However, I am low. Here is what Judge Ratkoff has to say on the topic; “Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the results of guilty pleas.” The innocent who also plea bargain from what they know, is 2% to 8% of the 2.2 million in prison as of 2014 or 44,000 to >160,000 imprisoned.
The reasoning for all of these statements is to bring about a reality of the officiating and legal systems and its treatment of people. The system is inaccurate and it is biased. From what we do know, black Americans mostly commit crimes against black Americans and the same holds true for white Americans and at a similar high percentage. Both are taken from the same flawed pool of numbers which in my belief are incomplete and inaccurate. The latter being true because few cases go to trial to prove or disprove innocence.
– The cost of going to trial exceeds the financial capabilities of a defendant. This would be prevalent amongst minorities who have a larger ratio incarcerated.
– Public Defenders are over burdened with cases and the state pays them less than what they could make in private practice.
– Prosecutors encourage pleas as their case loads are high, this is one way to clear them out, and they work half as hard.
– It is no secret if you go to trial and practice your constitutional right to a “fair” trial, prosecutors and the courts have to work and more than likely the sentence will be harsher than if you plea bargain.
~50% of the imprisoned or jailed are there due to nonviolent crimes, drugs could be the prevailing reason. Of those imprisoned or jailed 1 of 10 is black on any given day. 59% of the state prison population are minority males. Yes, males do commit more violent crimes. Younger males until the brain matures are more likely to make stupid decisions. Black Americans are imprisoned at a rate of “5.1 times the imprisonment of whites.”
But why, why are Black Americans more likely to go to prison? “ Other factors, not simply race, account for differences in crime across place. Criminologists Ruth Peterson and Lauren Krivo note that African Americans comprise a disproportionate share of those living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods and communities where a range of socio-economic vulnerabilities contribute to higher rates of crime, particularly violent crime.44) In fact, 62% of African Americans reside in highly segregated, inner city neighborhoods that experience a high degree of violent crime, while the majority of whites live in ‘highly advantaged’ neighborhoods that experience little violent crime>.” As an example, Detroit is a SCOTUS economically and educationally walled-in city. If your complaint or point is violence is inherent to black Americans, I will say no in return this is not true. The issue is mostly environmental and we white Americans turn our backs to it or choose to ignore it.
Crime is down in the US contrary to what one orange-haired SOB says and his followers believe; however, it still exists and minorities are the greater target of it and the resulting applied mis-justice. I recommended a book on Angry Bear once as written by a physiatrist Dr. James Gilligan. “Reflections on a National Epidemic, Violence.” It is not terribly long. It is written by a doctor having years of experience in the prison system. He talks about the men in prison and what drives them to their acts of violence.
I don’t have your experience. I can only work through data and reasoning.
Think of it this way. Say you have two neighborhoods with identical populations. Assume the only difference between the neighborhoods is that the Chief of Police in one of the neighborhoods is that in one of the neighborhoods, there is a judge who is a hardass. Every convicted criminal in his neighborhood goes to prison for three times as long as the equivalent convicted criminal in the other neighborhood. The end result is that his neighborhood will have the lower crime rate since it has a greater proportion of its criminals locked away.
Now… you note that White people and Black people don’t live in the same neighborhoods, but that Black people are more likely to be convicted and are punished more harshly for the same crime. Why, then, are the marches to end the violence not happening in White neighborhoods? Instead, they happen in Black neighborhoods in Detroit, and St. Louis, and Baltimore, and Chicago. I can think of a few reasons, but none of them are compatible with all of the facts you are presenting and/or one or more of your implicit assumptions.
I’d like to see the carnage decrease. I want fewer 6 year old kids caught in the cross-fire, be they from any group. Political Correctness isn’t getting us there.
From a paper I was writing:
While many US citizens still believe in the American Dream, Tom Hertz noted (“Understanding Mobility in America,” 2006 Table 1); of all those born into the lowest quartile of income, 46% had a more likely outcome of remaining there as adults. If black and born into the lowest quartile, the likelihood of remaining there was 63%. James Gilligan takes it a step further in his study (“Reflections on A National Epidemic – Violence” Gilligan); quoting H.A. Bulhan’s reference to structural violence. “For every 1% increase in unemployment in the United States, there was an increased mortality of 37,000 deaths per year (natural and violent) including ~2,000 more suicides and homicides than might otherwise occur.” Or explained in simpler terms, for every 1% increase in Unemployment, we can expect to see increases in the mortality rate by 2%, homicides and imprisonments by 6%, and infant mortality by 5%. Since WWII, the unemployment rate for blacks has been twice as high as that of whites. (Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression; H.A Bulhan; Mental Illness and the Economy, M.H Brenner). Hertz points to a decrease in income mobility and Bulhan points to higher crime, violence, and death rates due to unemployment. Both Hertz and Bulhan point out the impact for those of the lowest income brackets and black minorities even more so. The resultant increases in violence, homicides and imprisonments can be attributed more so to poverty relating imprisonments as a result of being tough on crime. Hypertension amongst those living in dangerous urbanized environments is also higher when compared to those of high income environments. Given the last 8 years of poor economy; is it any wonder that death rates are higher due to violence or natural causes, more people are going to prison, more of those going to prison are black minorities, and more are going and staying longer in prison due to stringent sentencing.
Get the book I suggested. It will give you better information, especially on males.
A very close close friend of mine spent five years working in the Public Defenders office in Philadelphia before she gave it up as hopeless. Your description of plea bargaining matches her conversations with me, but there is more to it.
Those who are on parole and/or probation for prior acts(regardless of severity) and get arrested again have very few choices. They have no chance at bail, as their status insures they will remain in jail until their trial.
Might take months and months until they actually walk into a court room, and at that point they are often faced with a decision. Accept the plea deal for time served and go home, or try to fight the case. If they take the latter they are certain of one thing, their prior probation/parole(PP) status will ensure more jail time regardless if they actually beat their current case.
It will take months for their hearing on the PP violation that stemmed from the new charges. So they find themselves with this:
They just spent six months or so in jail for a crime they did not commit.
If they fight the case they know, regardless if they win, they will spend another three or four months in jail. If they lose the case, they know they will receive more time than if they plead guilty, and then add that time to the time they will receive from their PP case(most judges will run them as consecutive, not concurrent sentences).
As opposed to that they get an offer from the DA. Plead guilty. We’ll give you time served; we’ll dump the PP case; and you can go home. But, we will extend your time under PP by a couple of years(depending on the crime.
What choice do they have? And this is true for minor misdemeanors right up the line. Their defense attorney is totally swamped. There are almost no investigative work done by the Public Defender’s office.
Circle goes on.
In the state of Michigan, the tether is $12/day which the parolee is supposed to pay whenever. Having them get a cell phone with GPS would be far cheaper. The state puts them into debt. Class with Catholic Charities is $5/class every two weeks and their report can cause a parolee to be in violation. The right to a fast trial is frequently violated by continuances, etc. or just plain forgetting about the defendant. Bail can be insurmountable for those being held if there are no assets.
I can tell you a lot of stories.
Welcome to Angry Bear. First time comments and commenters go to moderation to weed out spam, spammers, and advertising. I am going to delete your second comment as you probably made it after not seeing your first comment. I am hoping to see more from you other than “great post” in the future.
Sorry, I was not here sooner to approve your comment.