It doesn’t happen very often that I find redeeming social value in a column by Nicholas Kristof, but today is one of those days.
Recently, Kristof travelled to Oklahoma to research the mass incarceration of females. Of course, he begins by inveighing against all mass incarceration, but since everyone knows that young males commit far more crimes than do young females, we can easily defend the mass incarceration of males in terms of the concomitant reduction in crime. With female prisoners, the same is probably not the case.
If we decide to release more male criminals from prison we are very likely to see an increase in the crime rate. If we decide to release more female criminals from prison the chances are good that we will not. Besides, if we do the latter, more children will have mothers present in the home.
Of course, a television series called Orange is the New Black has glamorized and even eroticized life in a woman’s prison. The show makes prison life seem cool and hot, though with an occasional instance of violence.
Inexplicably, Kristof does not mention the television show. But, he also does not mention the fact that his argument rests on a yawning division of the sexes.
Despite what the propagandists would have you believe, men and women are not the same. In part, at least, America has gone down the road toward the mass incarceration of females because certain ideologues have insisted that men and women receive equal treatment in all matters, great and small, good and bad.
America leads most of the world in incarcerating females because contemporary feminism insists on equality.
Kristof describes the scene, in which orange is not quite as fashionable as the television show makes it appear:
The women’s wing of the jail here exhales sadness. The inmates, wearing identical orange uniforms, ache as they undergo withdrawal from drugs, as they eye one another suspiciously, and as they while away the days stripped of freedom, dignity, privacy and, most painful of all, their children.
Apparently, our mania with equality has caused us to ignore the fact that mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. And this has been costly:
The United States has recently come to its senses and begun dialing back on the number of male prisoners. But we have continued to increase the number of women behind bars; two-thirds of women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. America now incarcerates eight times as many women as in 1980, and only Thailand seems to imprison women at a higher rate.
As for the difference between the sexes, Kristof renders it here:
I wouldn’t argue that mass female incarceration is worse than mass male incarceration — they’re both counterproductive — but the imprisonment of women has heartbreaking collateral damage, because women are disproportionately likely to be primary caregivers, and 60 percent of American women in state prisons have children under 18.
Then there is the question of responsibility. How many women criminals were doing it to please a man or were doing it because they were accompanying a man? And how many of them suffered sexual abuse or were addicted to licit and illicit substances:
In fact, the women should evoke sympathy; even more than male prisoners, they have been through the wringer.
A quarter of women in state prisons reported having been sexually abused as children, one 1999 Justice Department study found. A different study found that 43 percent of women in jails that were examined had serious mental health problems, and 82 percent had drug or alcohol problems.
Take the example of a woman named Rabbit:
Like many female felons, Rabbit seems to have gotten in trouble because of a boyfriend who manipulated her into committing crimes.
“He always put me in the position of doing the dirty work,” Rabbit said, speaking of a boyfriend who used to choke and beat her when he wasn’t coercing her to commit crimes. She says they committed robberies and other offenses, sometimes she at his behest; he ended up with a sentence of four years probation and she faced a possible sentence of 26 years in prison.
You’ve come a long way, baby! Our society’s failure to distinguish between men and women, our obsession with thinking that women are just as strong and just as prone to criminality as men has produced this problem.
You might think that these women deserve what they got and that they are responsible adults. Yet, while a young male criminal is more likely to reoffend and to endanger society, I seriously doubt that the same danger would be present if we got over the tendency to incarcerate women en masse.