How gender affects offenders and officers in the criminal justice system

Gender affects not only how inmates are treated, but how officers interact with them and the policies they subscribe to when it comes to rehabilitation

Moral development can be differential according to gender, especially as it pertains to the criminal justice system. Men and women both react differently if they are forced to experience the same situation. Lawrence Kholberg’s’ Theory of Moral Development’ was based on six stages, and the fact that men and women fared differently based on their gender.

This theory proved to be pretty spot on until Carol Gilligan took Kholberg’s theory one step further. “Gilligan concluded that women, as opposed to men, tend to see moral life in terms of care rather than justice and in terms of responsibility rather than rights.” (Banks, 2013, p. 323)

Her concept makes sense as in my prior experience working within the criminal justice system, women have always appeared to be more concerned with the emotional aspect of a situation, while men are often more concerned with revenge or justice.

Photo Steve Ringman/Seattle Times

Male vs. Female
In my personal experience, moral discrepancies do exist within the judicial system according to gender. Not only is there a difference upon sentencing a criminal violator, but there also seems to be a difference in how criminal offenders are supervised by probation officers. The implementation of evidence-based practices (EBP) for supervision of offenders can often be quite different depending on gender. Female officers appear to grasp the concept of implementing both positive influences in addition to the use of swift and certain sanctions specific to a displayed behavior.

The transition to changing the way people are supervised is a drastic one. For decades, probation officers simply monitored sanctions ordered by the court, and when someone didn’t comply, they were arrested, brought back before the court, and eventually their supervision would be revoked and they would serve the remainder of their sentence under incarceration. When EBP was implemented, officers across the country were asked to cease only providing negative sanctions such as arresting everyone, but moving towards changing behavior by providing positive influence and recognizing the small strides people make.

Female officers often gravitate towards this, and begin connecting with probationers. Male probation officers typically take longer to jump on the bandwagon, often coined “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Many officers have either elected to leave the position because they didn’t buy in to the scientific research, or they still struggle with providing positive incentives to promote positive behavior. There is certainly a difference in how probation violators are treated as officers provide consequences for actions. Female officers are more apt to give second and third chances, while male officers are rather quick to bring the person back to court and recommend incarceration.

Affecting Sentencing
Not only is there a difference noticed post-sentencing, but there is certainly a difference in how individuals are treated by the court prior to, or at sentencing. Male judges are typically less strict when it comes to sentencing a female offender versus a male offender, if both genders were charged with the same crime and came from a similar background. Domestic violence is a prime example of just how different the treatment of individuals can be from male to female.

Males are more often than not, guilty until proven innocent, while females appear to be treated quite differently when they are accused of domestic violence. The justice system hasn’t appeared to have caught up with the times when it comes to domestic violence and only males being treated as the aggressor. “More men than women were victims of intimate partner physical violence within the past year, according to a national study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Justice.” (Hoff, 2012 )

There are serious implications for the justice system in the fact that individuals are sanctioned differently based on gender. Additionally, juries are often selected by attorneys with gender in mind if a case comes to trial. Women tend to be more caring, while men are more concerned with the truth and finding justice. “We know that like race, gender matters. A plethora of studies make clear that in rape cases, for example, female jurors are somewhat more likely to vote to convict than male jurors.” (Excerpts From Supreme Court Opinions on Sex as Jury-Selection Standard , 1994)

Even though the Supreme Court took action in an attempt to sway attorneys from engaging in this practice, it still occurs today. Attorneys are fully aware, and purposely select those jurors that they feel will be more susceptible to being swayed by an emotional roller coaster of whatever situation is being heard by the court.


Banks, C. (2013). Criminal Justice Ethics. Tousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Excerpts From Supreme Court Opinions on Sex as Jury-Selection Standard . (1994, April 20). Retrieved from The New York Times:

Hoff, B. (2012 , February 12). CDC Study: More Men than Women Victims of Partner Abuse. Retrieved from

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