Gender and Culture in Criminal Justice and Capital Punishment: A Regional, National and International Comparison
Comparing the rates of crime and punishment in the United States as a whole to various individual regions and states, and to other countries in the world can provide very useful information regarding criminal justice policies in the nation. Through such measurement and comparisons, programs that work -- and those that do not -- can be identified, expanded, adjusted, or eliminated as warranted by the evidence. On a deeper level, understanding such information can tell a society a lot about its attitudes towards crime and various 'types' or demographics of criminals, potentially exposing not only more fundamental societal issues but also cultural values, perspectives, and ethics. Within North American culture violence, racism and religion are often interrelated. Although the U.S. has always claimed to be a Christian nation -- or perhaps a Judeo-Christian one -- its Constitution is secular and prevents any state-established religion. Almost invariable, the criminal justice system in the United States has been harsher toward blacks, Native Americans and immigrants than whites, and also more lenient with women than men. Other cultures and religions around the world have very different patterns, however.
Over the centuries, though, blacks, Native Americans, and Jewish and Catholic immigrants experiences considerable discrimination at the hands of the white, Protestant majority, as do Muslim immigrants today. Even today, blacks are far more likely to be arrested, convicted and receive longer sentences than whites, and are also more likely to be sentenced to death. In many ways, the U.S. is actually insecure about its cultural and religious identity, just as Muslims have been insecure about their place within the society, especially since September 11, 2001. Muslims face their own conditions and hardships in attempting to enter U.S. society, which supposedly believes in tolerance and religious freedom, but also cultural assimilation. Generally, the host culture is both changed and reaffirmed by the process of assimilation, especially by Muslims whose assimilation is often seen as an example of the revitalization of the entire culture. Assimilation is not simply absorption into the host culture but a process or reading it, gaining new meanings and making new additions. This is more on an individual effort than a group process, so in describing it the best strategy would be to focus on the individual rather than the group process, and the abstract grouping of a community around nationalist, religious and socio-cultural factors.
In the process of assimilation described in such situations, both the host and immigrant cultures are altered and renewed. For example, one of the most difficult challenges was revealed in a recent poll of the Arab-American community about 9/11 which revealed that 61% were "worried about the long-term effects of discrimination against Arab-Americans" caused by these attacks, and that 20% reported that they had "personally experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity" (Zogby). This already high percentage increases greatly because 45% also reported knowing someone who experienced discrimination or profiling from government authorities. A very high percentage (69%) also believed that profiling had increased significantly after 9/11 (Zogby). Criminal profiling of Arab-Americans has been going on ever since September 11, 2001, and is based on both race and culture. In one case that received national attention, a group of young Arab-American men were talking in a diner, and the waitress who overheard them made up a hysterical story about terrorism and had them arrested. Incidents like these must never be permitted to happen because they are embarrassing to communities and the entire nation. They also violate the Constitution, which guarantees personal and religious freedom and protects the individual against unreasonable search and seizure.
In this infamous incident at the Shoney's restaurant in Calhoun, Georgia, the young men were having an innocent conversation that had nothing to do with terrorism. All three were medical students on their way to a nine-week course in Miami and that was the topic of their conversation. Asked if they made comments about September 11th or any other terrorist incident they replied "Of course not" (Man, 2002). Kambiz Butt, one of the students, later remarked that the eavesdropper "might have heard a few key words that she misconstrued" (Man, 2002), and categorically denied discussing violence or terrorism, since they were medical students dedicated to saving lives rather than harming people. To prevent this problem from occurring in the future, and the effect it might have in alienating Arab-Americans from the United States, more education in diversity and tolerance will be necessary at all levels of society.
This essay examines the relationship between gender, religion, culture and death penalty in the United States as a whole, with specific attention to the sentencing and executions of female inmates convicted of serious crimes. In carrying out this investigation, comparisons shall be made between the overall United States statistics, individual states and other countries in their application of the death penalty to women. This comparison will contribute to a better understanding of the United States' criminal justice system, and more specifically its view of female perpetrators of serious violent crimes, while also providing an understanding of the values and perspectives of U.S. culture.
Since 1976 only twelve women convicted of violent crimes and sentenced to death have actually been executed (Death Penalty Information Center 2011). Over the entire course of Western civilization on the continent, from 1632 to 2007, five-hundred and sixty-eight females have been executed following a criminal conviction and sentencing, which is less than three percent the total number of men executed over the same period (DPIC 2011). At the same time, women account for approximately ten percent of arrests for murder in the country (the crime for which the death penalty is usually given. At the same time, women are only 2% of individuals actually sentenced to execution by a judge or jury, 1.5% of percent of individuals on death row, and 1% of all individuals executed in the modern era (DPIC 2011). That there is a gender bias in the application of the death penalty, even taking into consideration that women commit fewer violent crimes than do men, is undeniable.
Sexism probably plays a considerable part in the fact that fewer women receive capital punishment than men. Most of the individuals who tend to support the death penalty are generally conservative, Republican, white males, who imagine themselves to be paternalistic and chivalrous towards the 'fairer sex', at least in the past. Consequently, they strongly oppose women being sentenced to death. In fact, conservative evangelicals and Republicans have sometimes even prominently militated against women receiving the death sentence, as was the case with Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition protesting Tucker execution in 1998.
This may not necessarily be so, however, since as Streib (1990) shows compounding factors for receiving the death sentence include the offender's prior record for committing crimes; premeditation of the crime; and her potential for future violent crimes. Women are less likely to represent or possess these characteristics than men and, therefore appear less often on death row. Similarly, Rappaport (2000) indicates that this disproportionality is actually not in women's favor since assessments of this pattern shows that most of female felonies involve domestic abuse. The fact that the criminal justice system barely acts to execute women over this issue might indicate that they fail to take domestic abuse seriously enough. Rappaport also observes that male offenders, too, receive comparative light sentences when domestic abuse is involved.
Proving that sexism is involved in forgiving or punishing women may be an onerous and even impossible task. On one hand, gender bias is often extremely hard to prove, particularly since the McClesey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987) case demands proof that not only that the death row inmate's specific case involved discrimination but also that a pattern of discrimination exists. Few judges and jurors would be open to admitting such discrimination, and perhaps they would not even be able to perceive it. Even more significantly, fighting for the abolition of gender discrimination could come to be seen as unworthy if it results in increasing the use of the death penalty for women, since "it suggests a campaign to exterminate a few more wretched sisters" (Rappaport, 2000, 15) or an attempt to decrease it for men. Since gender bias is difficult to prove, it may be still harder to reverse, so the disproportionate use of the death penalty on men may be left unchanged. After all, America is traditionally chivalrous in its essence and built on the Puritan/Calvinist/Protestant ethics of gentility to women. Most importantly, though, women simply commit far fewer capital crimes than men.
Feminist organizations have attempted to ensure equal rights for both genders, although their agenda stops short of taking on this particular issue. Demanding an equal application of death sentences for men and women, is one area where that they will probably prefer to maintain inequality, particularly since feminists -- liberal as they are -- tend to oppose the death penalty altogether.…