puishment and gender

I read this BBC article on punishing women a few weeks ago, and since then, I've been thinking about the nature of punishment. This is a hard thing to philosophize about because in an ideal world, everyone would behave themselves in the first place. How much can we abstract away before we lose the realism of the situation?

Back to the article, though. I tend to be hesitant about simple declarations that men and women are different, especially when there isn't much elaboration.  I acknowledge that men and women can behave differently, but I like to know the specifics of that behavior so that I can think about how much of that comes from the society in which they live and how much is due to potential inherent differences.

To be fair, I don't think the intent of the article was to be a rigorous argument.  I could poke many-a-hole in it if it was, but then I'd probably go on to poke holes in my own arguments, anyway, so I'll leave that for now.

As per the article, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said the following:
We have to be sensible and humane in getting offending down in men and women, and we have to have different, but firm, approaches.

And the Ministry of Justice stressed:
[O]nly vulnerable women rather than ones who are "serious or dangerous" should be punished in the community.

I agree that punishment should be sensible and humane regardless of gender.  I suppose the reason this article ruffles my feathers is that men are vulnerable in prison too.  They are raped and beaten.  So why focus on the gender distinction if you aren't going to support it with any further details?  I'd rather them consider punishing all vulnerable prisoners in the community.  Is that too scary for the public?

1 comment:

Jeff Kaufman said...

The bit that really stood out to me was:

"While there is a consensus that
we need to be tougher on male
offenders there is also a broad
consensus that where possible we
should punish and reform females
in the community and not in
prisons," said Mr Straw.

There's no mention of who this consensus is among, but I suspect straw is actually talking about public opinion. Harsh punishment of male offenders is popularly seen positively and harsh punishment of female offenders negatively.

If they're really trying to make things better for the public and the prisoners they would be doing individual evaluations with attention to vulnerability and dangerousness without using gender as a proxy. That would be less popular, I suspect, and a justice secretary that advocated this would be painted as soft on crime. By implementing this for women only they are able to bypass the negative characterization while at least helping some of the prisoners.