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Women, Race, and Criminal Justice Processing (From Women, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Original Feminist Readings, P 222-231, 2001, Claire Renzetti and Lynne Goodstein, eds. -- See NCJ-197570)

NCJ Number
Evelyn Gilbert
Date Published
10 pages
This chapter examines whether women are differentially processed in the criminal justice system based on race.
The United States has historically had a disproportionate number of African-Americans in its prisons. Mauer (1995) found that African-American women have experienced the greatest increase in criminal justice involvement of all demographic groups, with their rate of criminal justice control increasing 78 percent from 1989 to 1994. This disparity continues to the present and is more pronounced when the conviction offense is drug related. The increasing incarceration of drug-law violators has a disproportionate effect on women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. The race-gender interaction has complex dimensions that must be explored to fully account for statistical evidence that shows similarities in the crimes of white and Black women but disparities in the way they are processed. On the basis of current statistical findings, differential discretion resulting in disparity occurs at formal and informal decision points. First, the crime charged by police is likely to reflect disparity based on gender-race interaction. Overpolicing and excessive surveillance in African-American neighborhoods leads to increased police-citizen contacts that result in arrest. A second decision point is bail. Whether arrestees can avail themselves of departures from bail limits depends upon the economic resources they have at their disposal. In the case of poor women, differential treatment is evident because even reasonable bail may not be an assurance that the arrestee will be released prior to further processing. Prosecutorial charging is a third decision point. Plea negotiations offer opportunities for differential treatment. Low-level offenders are at greater risk of prosecutorial excess and abuse of discretion. Users, lookouts, and street-level dealers with no useful information are at a distinct disadvantage in bargaining for reduced charges. Persons who are mere users have no advantage in plea bargaining. Conviction offense is the fourth decision point that may yield differential gender disparity by race. Evidence suggests that judge-and-jury imposed sentences are sources of gender-race disparity. Whether the most important considerations are formal or informal remains to be determined. 1 table, 4 notes, and 48 references