Spying some twits between the Texas Tornado, Mark Bennett, and former prosecutor-cum-defense lawyer (and president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association), and now chief of sex crimes at the Harris County District Attorney, JoAnne Musick, one sentence stood out:
Criminal bar is what, 30 years ahead of civil?
This came in response to a twit by the ABA Journal about women chipping away at “male litigation domination,” an obsession amongst the social justice warriors at the ABA. The point was that in criminal law, we’ve had brilliant women lawyers holding presidencies, representing clients, running prosecutorial offices and trying cases for decades.
It’s always been about merit. No one cared what was between the legs. The only thing that mattered was whether you had the chops to do the job. Try telling a jury a woman shouldn’t win because she’s a woman. Try telling a defendant that his not guilty verdict means less because his lawyer was a woman. And when we had a beer afterward, no one gave a damn what your gender (or color, or any other characteristic) was. You were either a good lawyer or not. That’s all that mattered.
The same is true for our clients, the defendants. We defend people. Not men. Not women. Race does come into play here, as minorities are targeted by police who are deployed to black and Latino neighborhoods with a bad attitude. This, too, is addressed for its implications to outcome, to treatment, to the lies cops tell when dealing with the poor. We don’t defend people of color differently than whites, but defend them effectively because of the reality of what they face. They’re our clients, our responsibility.
And while we fight for the same reasons against the same problems and enemies that we’ve always fought for, there are forces trying to manipulate the problems, the issues, from bad laws, police and prosecutorial misconduct, to disgraceful prison conditions, to make them into gender issues.
The media has devoted a lot of ink and airtime to the sky-high incarceration rates here in the U.S., but sadly, that coverage often ignores a key demographic: women.
The female prison population has spiked in recent years, and since Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, we thought this would be a good time to shed more light on this disturbing trend.
There has been attention on prison nation, though it’s dwindling these days as more important issues, such as the trauma suffered by women because of consensual drunken sex on campus, have overshadowed it. But it was never a gender issue. It applies to all, regardless of gender. It didn’t ignore women. But then, women’s self-obsession by marches all about them would have us believe this “key demographic” demands special treatment.
Between 1980 and 2014, the number of women in prison grew by an alarming 700 percent – increasing at a rate 50 percent higher than men. Over the same period, the number of women in local jails has increased 14-fold. This impact falls disproportionately on African-American women, whose rate of imprisonment is double that of white women.
This is the fallacy of small numbers. It was effectively employed by Trump to claim a crime epidemic, and is now being used to create the impression that women are somehow suffering imprisonment in epic proportions.
As of January 28, 2017, the Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics show that there are 12,690 female inmates and 176,087 males. Or, if stats are your thing, 93.3% of federal prisoners are men, and 6.7% are women. That doesn’t mean the percentage of women in prison hasn’t increased, but that it takes remarkably few women to give rise to wild statistical shifts because there just aren’t very many women in prison.
Those statistics are even more disheartening when you consider approximately 60 percent of women in prison are mothers. We need to take a serious look at what it means for those women – and the children they leave behind.
And men in prison aren’t fathers? And the children men leave behind don’t matter? Of course it’s important that women in prison are mothers. It’s also important that men in prison are fathers. And it’s important to every child left behind that they will grow up without a mother or father.
The women who are incarcerated in this country often struggle with drug abuse or mental illness, further complicating their ability to return to life outside. They face systems and policies designed for men.
Perhaps this means that spending years in solitary confinement in a hole stinking of urine, feces, blood and fear is a guy system? There are no magic policies for men with drug abuse or mental illness, no less polices denied women.
With limited resources, prisons and jails are often poorly equipped to address the challenges women face when they enter the justice system. Women often leave prison with little hope of recovery and face greater parental stress. They have fewer options for financial independence, as 79 percent of these women reported they are unable to afford housing after their release. We can remedy some of these problems by strengthening our re-entry programs.
Men walk out of prison without the resources to transition to a law-abiding life. Women do too. The assertion that women are denied resources given anyone else is false and absurd. The system is a disaster, but it’s a equal-opportunity disaster. Everyone is screwed.
There are aspects of criminal law that have proven to be gender sensitive, such as the lighter sentences given women than men for similar crimes. But no one is calling for harsher penalties against women. The call is for reform for all, for the elimination of mandatory minimums, unduly harsh sentences, alternative sentences, for all defendants, regardless of gender.
Keep your genderization out of criminal law. Reform is hard enough to achieve for anyone, no less by this utterly nonsensical claim that we need special reforms for women. We have a national disgrace for everyone, regardless of gender, and the last thing we need is the lie that it’s different and worse for women. It’s horrible for everyone. Fix it for everyone. Even women.