Gender Issues in Criminal Justice


There is available research to indicate that there are gender biases within the criminal justice system. Based on this research, women appear to be on the receiving need of this biasness, compared with their male counterparts. Since males dominate the criminal justice system, this could be a pointer to the biasness seen. Another area worth of exploration is that of Gender Issues in the Criminal Justice System between Transsexuals. Upon incarceration, transsexual people are more vulnerable to violence and discrimination by the prison staff and fellow inmates as well. This is because they are normally placed in the same cells with members of a gender that they do not identify with. Moreover, transgender people are likely to be denied the medical facilities given to inmates in the general cells, an indication of the level of inequality that exist within the criminal justice system, regarding the issue of gender.

Gender biases in criminal justice system

Whereas criminal law should be applied equally to both men and women, “There have been and is still some exceptions” (Heidensohn, n.d, para 1). For example, most of the time, male homosexual acts are regarded as acts of crime, whereas lesbian acts are exempt (Chaneles, 1984, p. 5). Only one gender is supposed to commit some forms of crimes, and not others such as burglary. Such discrimination in the criminal justice system has led to a debate about the fairness of applying criminal law to both genders. Accordingly, there is the possibility of the justice system can be biased when handling a male suspected of committing a crime, as opposed to females suspected of committing a crime.

The criminal justice system, it is alleged, has a bias against women. The criminal justice system has not been fair in treating women in such issues as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and prostitution, amongst others (Stewart, 2000, p. 4). Accordingly, feminists’ movements rose to address this discrepancy. Feminism has commented on some of the laws that exclude women. Men have a monopoly of law because “put simply the law is a creation of men” (Stewart, 2000, p. 5). The law therefore reflects male prejudices that might be unconscious but “institutionalized into system and affects the culture of law” (Stewart, 2000, p. 5). Women are discriminated against when they report crimes of domestic violence. This is because most people working in the Criminal justice system are men and they tend to protect their fellow men. According to Fawcett Society (2009, par. 1), the staffing of the police force in higher grades is characterized by their under-representation, but at lower levels, a majority of them are clustered here. Even amongst the Crown Prosecution staff, where women represents two thirds of the staff, many of them occupies positions at low levels. On the other hand, the House of Lords has a single woman as its judge, out of 12. Furthermore, only 10 percent of the entire judges of the high court are women. Therefore, women end up failing to get justice in some instances, just because such crimes are considered private and therefore appear fit to be settled within the family.

Women and men in crime

Determining the gender that commits more acts of crime is not easy. This is because getting reliable data is problematic. It is important to note at this point that there is a disparity “between the number of crimes recorded and the number of known offenders” (Walklate, 2004, p.2). This is because a person may commit more than one crime. Furthermore, the criminal offences recorded do not have identifiable offenders. Therefore, becomes easier to know the number of crimes committed instead of whom are committing the crimes. This has led criminologists to look for other ways of identifying the gender of sex offenders, such as the use of victimization surveys. In criminology, the role that women play in perpetrating crime has often been faced with a certain amount of indifference. The intellectual customs that provide a framework for the concept of criminology appears to uphold esteem for the intelligence, autonomy, as well as the force of character of men, even as it seeks to despise women due to their passivity and compliance (Heidensohn, 2006, p. 14).

According to The US Department of Justice statistics, in 2001, women constituted 19 percent of the offenders in the criminal justice system. The office gave detailed information about criminal behavior between men and women because it has experience in the criminal justice system. According to their report, men commit more offences, in comparison with their female counterparts. Thus, more men than women were incarcerated (US Department of Justice, 2001, p. 1). In addition, women are “convicted of less serious crime when compared with the kinds of crimes mean are convicted for” (Walklate, 2004, p. 6).

Statistics on violent crime support the claim that females tend to be less aggressive, in comparison with their male counterparts. On the other hand, other researchers opine that males may not in fact be more aggressive that their female counterparts; it is only that women, according to these researchers, manifest their aggressiveness in less physical, and less overt ways. For instances, there is a tendency amongst females to manifest more relational and verbal aggression, as exhibited in social rejection (Bjorkqvist, Kirsti & Osterman, 1994, p. 28). However, men, on the other hand, use violence as a way of expression their aggression, compared with women. For this reason, an argument can be held that the reason more males commit violent crimes compared with women is their innate inclination to exhibit their aggression in violent ways, and this includes their committing of crimes as well. Regarding the issue of crime and gender, a majority of the sociological and criminological studies appear to shy away. It is only in recent years that an increase in the number of researchers exploring this area is evident (Hines & Kimberly, 2003, p. 204). Accordingly, authors like Heidensohn (2006, p. 45) regard this as more of a marginalization of female deviance.

A leading reason that contributes enormously to assessing the position of women in deviance and crime, hinges upon the fact that men are the ones who exclusively handles this issues. The domination of men into the affairs of women in crime starts right from policing, up to and including the hypothetical approaches that examine the deviance and committing of crime by women. Accordingly, the expectation would be that the trend portrayed here is a one-sided point of view on the issue of gender and crime in the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, additional contentions have been offered regarding women invisibility in as far as, theoretical approaches to criminal justice system are concerned. For example Heidensohn (1995) argues that females have an ‘…apparently low level of offending’ (Heidensohn, 1995, p. 15). For this reason, women are viewed as a lesser threat to the society, in comparison to their male peers, because their ‘delinquencies tend to be of a relatively minor kind.’ (Heidensohn, 1995, p. 15).

The author has also arrayed another fear that may have excluded the participation of women in research on the gender issues in the criminal justice system; their participation would either undermine or threaten the criminal justice system theories.

Additional theories on the role of women in the criminal justice systems exist, and many of the related debates appear to surround the issue of women involvement in theoretical research pertaining to crime, if not their outright ignorance. Nonetheless, advances and approaches occasioned by masculinity and feminist studies, along with the claim that there has been an increase in the number of women committing crimes, and more so violent crimes, have resulted in more researchers focusing on this area. A male living in the United States is 9 times more likely to be incarcerated, when compared with a female. Nonetheless, statistics from the federal prison indicates that demographically, there is a sharp increase in the number of women in state or federal prison, compared with men. Some 2004 statistics in the United States showed that females were nearly 10 times less likely to commit such a heinous crime as murder, compared with men. Men were also increasingly vulnerable as victims of violent crimes, the only difference across the gender being rape (Hines & Kimberly, 2003, p. 211).

Gender Issues in the Criminal Justice System between Transsexuals

When transgender and transsexual people are incarcerated, there are various problems that this development presents. Prior to their undergoing genital reconstructive surgery, chances are that they will be imprisoned with non-transsexual people. Accordingly, in this new environment, they have a hard time leading a life in their gender role of choice because they are more vulnerable to sexual assault, bullying and violence from both their fellow inmates and the prison staff (Israel & Tarver, 1998, p. 22). Although transsexual people are faced with many problems, nonetheless, the greatest challenge of all involves their imprisonment. Transsexuals with the gender identity of females end up imprisoned in prison reserved for men, yet their transsexual identity is that of male-to-female. As a result, this presents them with a risk since they are more vulnerable to victimization, based on the fact that their gender identity regarding masculinity is lacking.

On the other hand, transsexual women are noted to be the victims of the worst form of treatment upon their incarceration, not just from the other prisoners, but also from the prison officers as well. A majority of the prisons in the United States are yet to address the issues of treatment and housing offered to their transsexual inmates. In addition, some prisons have also been seen to shy away from, providing treatment to their transsexual inmates (Israel & Tarver, 1998, p. 23). However, some prisons in Hawaii and California are known for housing their transsexual inmates in facilities that is separate from that houses the other male or female inmates. Some of the alternative means of housing transsexual that a number of prisons in the United States have implemented include placing these inmates in a maximum custody facility that is monitored 24 hours. These are the same facilities that have been designed for inmates considered as dangerous and most violent. Nonetheless, the transsexual inmates in such houses are not in a position to access rehabilitative programs like their counterparts in the general population prison. This is an indication of a failure on the part of the criminal justice system to ensure that transsexual inmates enjoy equality like the rest of the prisoners. Furthermore, housing them in similar facilities with the most dangerous prisoners is also an indication of the low perception with which the transsexual individual are held, both by the society, and the criminal justice system.


Although there are differences in terms of the types and number of crimes that men commit, when compared with women, federal prison statistics indicate that women offenders have increased at a higher rate, in comparison with their male counterparts. Male offenders dominate crimes such as murder although women are victims as well, albeit at a lower rate. Differences in killing motivations have however been noted, across the genders. Based on the recent developments in the issue of gender in crime, there is a need for more female involvement in the justice system. In addition, the issue of the violence and discrimination that transsexual people face upon incarceration requires to be addressed.


Bjorkqvist, K., Kirsti, M., & Osterman, K. (1994). Sex differences in covert aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 202, 27-33.

Chaneles, S. (1984). Gender issues, sex offenses, and criminal justice: current trends. New York: Haworth Press.

Heidensohn, F. (1995). Women and Crime. Basingstoke: MacMillan.

Heidensohn, F. (2006). Gender and Justice: new concepts and approaches. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing

Hines, D. A., & Kimberly, J. S. (2003). Gender differences in psychological, physical, and sexual aggression among college students using the revised conflict tactics scales. Violence and Victims, 18, 197-217.

Israel, G., & Tarver, D. (1998). Transgender care: Recommended guidelines, practical information, and personal accounts. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Stewart, A. (2000). Gender, law and social justice: international perspectives. York: Oxford University Press.

Walklate, S. (2004). Gender, crime, and criminal justice. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing.

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