Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Is Feminism To Blame For Problems In US Criminal Justice System?

That seems to be one of the questions asked by Marie Gottschalk in her book The Prison and the Gallows. And according to Daniel Lazare's review of this book, the answer seems to be yes, at least for those feminists who were sick of seeing men get away with rape and wanted to see those who committed sexual violence treated as people who committed real crimes.

Daniel Lazare's take on Gottschalk's book (via Lawyers, Guns and Money):

Gottschalk's assault on '70s feminism is sure to raise the most eyebrows. She argues that the women's movement helped facilitate the carceral state by promoting a punitive approach to sexual violence that was unmitigated by any larger political considerations. This single-minded focus led to what The Prison and the Gallows describes as unsavory coalitions with tough-on-crime types. In the State of Washington, women's groups successfully marketed rape reform as a law-and-order issue so that, when the measure finally passed in 1975, it was "in part by riding on the coattails of a new death penalty statute."

If rape reform rode the coattails of bad laws, then rape reform is clearly not responsible for those bad laws. Should protecting victims of rape and protecting the public from repeat rapists be viewed as bad simply because feminists were willing to work with the tough-on-crime types?

If so, then any law that passes thanks to any vote from a legislator who isn't ideal must be viewed as a bad law. This would be true for any prison reform law. If you convince a tough-on-crime type that your bill is good (more effective at reducing crime and less expensive) then you've done something seriously wrong.

This is such backwards thinking that it in essence makes all laws bad.

The premise seems to be that if the feminists weren't trying to fight crime then our prisons wouldn't be overcrowded, there would be no abusive treatment of prisoners and no innocent man would ever be convicted and later exonerated. This is nonsense.

Chain gangs, forced confessions, lynching of prisoners and exonerations existed before any group of women were called feminists. The good old days before feminists started getting laws changed weren't so good for the prisoners and it certainly wasn't so good for the victims of domestic violence and sexual violence.

In Washington state before the feminists rode those coattails, Ted Bundy was murdering young women in sexualized crimes, including 2 on the same day in 1974, but it is feminists and the tough-on-crime legislators who take the fall for the public's willingness in 1975 to put men to death.

Feminists have been working on crime prevention for decades and have been getting backlash for that effort the entire time. The popular non-feminist response has been largely 3-fold: denial, victim blaming and calling for putting "real" rapists to death. But no matter how much effective prevention we have, some people will still commit horrific crimes at every opportunity they get.

Do we really want to eliminate the punitive response to dangerous criminals? I don't. I don't think you do either.

I can prove it easily. Do you want to see everyone currently in prison on a sex crime conviction immediately released? The child rapists, the child pornographers, the sexual sadists, the stranger rapists, the rapist/murderers. All of them out of prison. Now.

Do you want to see everyone currently in prison on a domestic crime conviction immediately released? The men who strangle their wives, the men who shoot other men who flirt with their woman, the women who run over their cheating husbands, the men who murder their children to punish their ex-wives. All of them out of prison. Now.

Is that what you want?

This would ease prison overcrowding, at least a little.

No? Then you too are just as much a part of the problem with our prison system as any feminist who doesn't want rapists to get away with their crimes.

The fact is that some people dismiss certain sex crimes and certain domestic violence crimes because of their opinion of the victim and/or the perpetrator. They don't want to see certain criminals given the sentences appropriate to their crime.

This is no real solution to the problems inside our prisons. In fact, this type of bias is, I believe, an underlying factor in many inequities within the prison system.

When it comes to sexual violence we have people who excuse so-called "gray" rape while demanding death for child rapists. When it comes to drugs we have people who excuse illegal use of prescription drugs while demanding long prison terms for those who use crack cocaine.

Basically the same crimes, but committed by a better class of people in acceptable ways or against non-sympathetic victims.

We have people who shout for "due process" and "innocent until proven guilty" when college men are arrested for rape, but who shout for the death penalty when someone from another country is accused of rape.

When it comes to complaints about rape shield laws, "due process" usually means allowing the defendant to distract the court from the actual evidence of the case by smearing the victim's character while robbing that victim of any "due process" rights.

Many people who scream about the lack of "due process" for men accused of rape, don't have a problem with lack of "due process" for someone suspected of plotting a terrorist attack. This double standard is rampant.

But feminism and feminists are handier scapegoats for a problem that belongs to all of us. And it is easier to look for scapegoats than it is to look for ways we can contribute to solving this complex problem.

Yet feminists’ involvement was relatively modest two years later [after VAWA] when a few liberals tried to rally opposition to Clinton’s plan to abolish Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which heavily benefited poor women. Like their nineteenth-century forebears, who advocated bringing back the whipping post to deal with wife beaters, late-twentieth-century feminists got more excited about punishment than defending the welfare state.

Again feminists are taking the fall for a trend that permeates our entire society.

We as a society are faster to condemn the vulnerable than we are to support them, whether the vulnerable are raped or hungry. Then we are faster to mock the vulnerable when they get angry over being trampled on and seeing people around them hurt or dying.

Poverty is a complex issue and one that is impacted by discrimination, illiteracy, infrastructures such as mass transit, pay inequity, day to day safety, and many other issues. To condemn feminism based on one law or even two is to demonstrate that you don't understand anything about feminism.

Many of the rules related to welfare and other safety-net programs created a prison for the poor that blocked their exit out of poverty. Healthcare is just one example. When people need medicine to stay alive because of chronic conditions it makes no sense to ever have a rule that can leave those people without healthcare. But many who will die without their medicine will lose their healthcare if they make one dollar too much.

When these people do lose healthcare and reach a medical crisis they will go to the ER and that treatment may be much more expensive than the healthcare which was lost.

But, hey, let's not think about that. Let's blame the feminists.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:47 AM   1 comments links to this post


At August 22, 2007 11:16 AM, Anonymous Kali said...

They are not simply scapegoating feminists. They are peddling lies about feminists (i.e. feminists don't care about poor women) in order to generate sympathy for rapists and wife-beaters.


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