One interesting facet of the debate regarding men’s rights is incarceration rates. In the U.S, 93% of people behind bars are men, with only 7% being women. This could, of course, be seen as an example of the violent and base tendencies of men, but a more enlightened person would probably take the position that our society conditions men into a role which by nature is more likely to encourage violent or criminal behavior. On one side men are socialized towards aggression and violence, and on the other into a provider role which can lead to crime when no other options are available because of a perceived need to care for family, whatever the risk.
Both of these positions, however, take one thing as given: men commit more crime, and the task at hand is finding out why. The question being asked, thus, is “why do men commit more crime than women?”
For the moment, we’re going to completely discard that assumption and make a different one: men and women commit the same amount of crime. With that in mind, we’ll ask a very different question: “If men and women commit equal amounts of crime, why are so many men in jail?”
This sounds irreconcilable, right? I mean, there’s no way the disparity could be that great without men committing more crime. It’s huge! Well, let’s start at the beginning, by asking questions. We’ve assumed that men and women as classes commit equal amounts of crime, but are they punished equally? We’ve all heard about discrimination against people of color in the courts, so could the same thing be happening to men? That’s just not possible, is it, in our “patriarchal male-centered men-first culture”….right?
Wrong. A black person is approximately 19% more likely to be convicted than a white person, but a man is approximately 165% more likely to be convicted than a woman….the bias is greater by a factor of eight. If you understand how statistics work, this means that if a white woman has a 100% adjusted chance (we’re doing comparisons, remember, and not tests, so this is valid) then a black woman has a 119% chance, a white man has a 265% chance, and a black man has a 315% chance. Thus, if we have the same number of criminals of each type at trial, if 10 white women are convicted the numbers will end up like so:
10 white women
12 black women
27 white men
32 black men
Thus with exactly the same number of equally guilty people of each race/gender, we saw 22 women convicted….and 59 men. Big difference, eh? In fact, this factor alone gives us a prison population that’s 73%male and 27% female. That’s three men in jail for every woman, but still far from our 93/7, which isthirteen men for every woman.
We’ve made an assumption, though: men and women are given the same sentence. Turns out, that’s simply not true. Overall, women get 40% shorter sentences, which if we flip it around and use women as a baseline means that if women get 100% sentences, men get 166%. (There is of course also a race component, but we won’t worry about it here. Suffice it to say that the race component is smaller than the gender component.)
What that means is that if a woman gets a one year sentence, a man will get a 1.66 year sentence. What effect does this have on our prison population? Simple: it raises the number of men in prison at any one time by a factor of about 1.7. If we go back to our earlier set of people this means that if we’re counting in years and the average 100% sentence is one year, we’ll have the same 22 women in jail, but 98, not 59 men. How about we run the percentages again? This time we’ve got 82% men, or four to one. At the very least this means we’ve got either a third as many women in jail as we should, or three times too many men.
Two simple factors, and from the exact same number of criminals with the exact same level of guilt we’re already up to four men in prison for every woman. Since the actual numbers are 93% to 7%, how close are we? Not very, actually, but we’re already very far from even. As every good (or bad, depending on how we’re counting) infomercial will say: but wait, there’s more!
See, up until now we’ve been presuming that everybody serves the entirety of their sentence, but in real life that’s not actually true, is it? Most offenders get out early, on parole. So how do the numbers stack up? We don’t know, actually. There’s not very much information available on the point of parole, but in practice we’d expect to see more of the same, with women having a higher chance of parole, and parole at an earlier date. This means that 166% sentence could easily get higher by comparison, and quickly. Since parole eligibility comes after serving only 33% of a sentence, more women being paroled could easily substantially reduce their average sentence. This isn’t even the last of it.
We made one final assumption, way back at the beginning: that the number of people brought to trial was equal. The thing is, that’s not actually true either. Regardless of who committed the crime, it’s more likely that a man will be arrested, and the police are more willing to take a man to court in the first place. This means that if we go all the way back to the beginning, to the actual point where women and men commit an equal number of crimes, we see several effects. First, a number of men are arrested and brought to trial for the crimes of women, crimes that no man committed at all. Second, of the cases where they correctly identify a female perpetrator, we’ll see a higher percentage of those where the perpetrator simply isn’t brought to trial at all. (And note that men being brought to trial on flimsier evidence isn’t going to reduce the conviction rate any, that’s already stuck.) This also considers the fact that men are more likely to be victims of false accusations of IPV, sexual assault or rape, especially in places with “no-drop” prosecution for those offenses.
We don’t have adequate data on either of these but we can make a couple wild-ass guesses and see where we end up. Note: this is where the relatively reliable data ends, from here on it’s a thought experiment rather than analysis.
Let’s suppose that the sentences women serve are twenty percent shorter, that ten percent of men are blamed for crimes committed by women (surprisingly reasonable, it turns out) and women are twenty percent less likely to be brought to trial.
Starting with 100% of crimes for each, we first shift ten percent from women to men:
- Women: 90%, Men: 110%
Now we subtract 20% of the female number from it:
- Women: 72%, Men: 110%
We now go to trial, for which we’ll equalize back to 100% of women as perpetrators and adjust the number of men accordingly:
- Women: 100%, Men: 153% (Note that just from this, by the time we walk into the courtroom we’ve already got 50% more men than women. We haven’t even had a trial yet.)
We now have a trial, with the conviction rates we outlined (265%):
- Women: 100%, Men: 405% (We’re already at 4 to 1, note how things compound.)
Next, we apply the sentencing differential of 166%:
- Women: 100%, Men: 675%
Finally, we apply our parole differential (80% for women means 125% for men):
- Women: 100%, Men: 844%
So what’s our ratio? 89% men to 11% women. If we raise the additional chance of a man being brought to trial from 20% to 40%, our ratio becomes 92% to 8%. This might strike you as unreasonable, but remember that the numbers confirm men being convicted two-and-a-half times as often and getting over fifty percent longer sentences. I regularly see cases in the news of events that would have led to an attempted murder charge for a man being basically dismissed and ignored because it was a woman holding the knife, and if you take a look around you’ll see the same.
Do men really commit more crime?
Probably yes, for all the reasons brought up way back at the beginning. Men are pushed by society to be violent, and thus they are more violent. Men are told that they must provide, and thus they attempt to do so at the cost of their safety and freedom. To a degree, women don’t commit crimes simply because they don’t have to: men will do it for them. Women rarely need to commit violence: men will do it for them. Women rarely need to break the law to provide for themselves: men will do it for them. The wives of the Mafia are just that….the wives. They share in their husbands’ gains but not their crimes, and why would they do otherwise when they could get all the benefit with almost none of the risk?
However, it’s not even close to justifying the numbers we’ve seen. Even just accounting for the bias we’ve got solid numbers on we can see that our incarceration rates are off by a factor of three. Certainly, that’s bad enough to be unconscionable. However, the fact that with perfectly reasonable numbers we can put things near par, giving us literally thirteen times as many men behind bars as should be? That’s utterly horrifying, and the only thing more horrifying is the fact that nobody seems to care. If this were happening to women, there’d literally be rioting in the streets….but to men?