Women almost never scare us; commit random acts of serious violence; violate our sexual integrity; or form organised crime networks and yet their prisons numbers are now the highest in recorded history.
The homogeneity of the human species breaks down when it comes to criminal behaviour. Women, who constitute slightly more than 50% of population, commit only about 20% of all crime. They commit even a lower portion of all serious crime.
Hillary Clinton is right to assert that the sentencing system should be reformed to reduce the growing number of female prisoners but the changes should go much further than has been suggested. We should implement concrete targets to remove the stains on our landscape and societal ethic that are women’s prisons.
There are remarkably similar patterns of female offending and incarceration in the United States and Australia. In the United States women commit only 17% of felonies, while in Australia they commit about 13% of the crimes dealt with in the higher courts.
Moreover, when it comes to sexual offences, rounded off to the nearest whole number, women constitute 0% of all offenders – that’s right, zero. The crimes they most commonly commit are drug and property offences. Thus, in the US, approximately 30% of female prisoners are incarcerated for property offences, and a further 26% for drug offences. The percentages for these offences are 26% and 17%, respectively, in Australia.
Women do of course commit homicide offences, but nearly always the victim is a relative and the crime was committed against the backdrop of an abusive relationship or depressive mindset. All homicides are heinous crimes but the types of homicides committed by women rarely involve random victims and hence do not engender community fear.
Despite this, the rate of female incarceration in both the United States and Australia is on the increase – far outstripping the increase in male incarceration levels. Women now comprise 8% of prisoners in the United States and Australia, which amounts to more than 200,000 incarcerated inmates in the US and 3,000 in Australia.
Nearly every one of these incarcerated women is the victim of a perverse and lazy policy disfigurement that fails to acknowledge the marked differences between female and male offenders. The differences are so stark that not only should women be treated more leniently because they commit less serious crime but they should also be treated more leniently when they commit the same crime as a man.
There are four major differences between male and female offenders.