Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Emma Decourcy, The Injustice of Formal Gender Equality in Sentencing, 47 Fordham Urb. L.J. 395 (2020)
Over the past 40 years, the entire United States penal population has grown at an unprecedented rate, and the rate of female incarceration is growing at twice the rate of men. Given that there does not appear to be an increase in female criminality that corresponds with the increase in female incarceration, it may be inferred that the rising rate of female imprisonment is the result of changes in criminal justice law and policy that prescribe simplistic, punitive enforcement responses to complex social problems.
While criminological research has paid increased attention to women and girls over the past decade, there is still much work left to be done. This Note aims to address a perceived gap in existing scholarship on female incarceration — existing research and proposed solutions have tended to focus on prison conditions and post-incarceration re-entry. While such work is imperative, an examination of the female pathways to incarceration is equally important. This Note argues reforms that target the front end of the incarceration process, namely sentencing, should be employed to address the rapidly rising rate of female incarceration.
Part I of this Note first provides a brief overview of the mass incarceration crisis in America and the changes in criminal justice policy, namely sentencing policy, to which it is attributed. Part I then discusses the impact of changes in sentencing policy on female sentencing outcomes. Part II proposes a framework of inquiry to be used by policymakers engaged in the creation of gender-responsive sentencing policies. This framework includes an analysis of the scope and nature of female incarceration, the correlates of female criminality, and the impact of existing gender-neutral policies on women involved in the criminal justice system. Finally, Part III discusses the efficacy of gender-neutral sentencing policies in action and identifies two policies that exemplify proper application of the framework presented in Part II.