An ancient Danish proverb posits that an old error has more friends than a new truth. It is a recurring theme in this collection of scholarly articles, each of which analyzes how gender-related stereotypes and practices have negatively influenced law enforcement, courts, and correctional facilities in their treatment of women and girls. Based principally on psychological research, the book not only chronicles how outdated attitudes and practices cause unnecessary harm, but also explains how science, training, and intervention can lead to better outcomes. It is a worthwhile book that lawyers, judges, and court administrators should find useful in addressing gender-based biases and challenges in the justice system.
Edited by two prominent academic psychologists, the book discusses the countless ways in which “gender intersects with race, class, and sexual orientation” to affect “the legal status and well-being of women and girls in the justice system.”
Organized into eleven chapters, the book examines women and girls in various settings, including family court, domestic violence disputes, sex trafficking, drug treatment courts, incarceration, and juvenile detention. Moreover, several enlightening chapters are devoted to trans-women, LGBT youth, and Mexican women in the U.S. justice system.
In addition to discussing specific cases and individuals, each chapter surveys the pertinent academic and scientific research. Importantly, each chapter also sets forth specific recommendations for reform.
The editing is generally superb and scholarly. Citations to authority adhere to a uniform style, and lengthy lists of references appear at the end of each chapter. As such, the book is useful both substantively and as a resource in locating relevant professional research material.
Principally written for psychologists, mental health professionals, social welfare litigators, and court system administrators, the book is crafted so that the narrative is also accessible to a wider audience. For this the editors should be applauded.
As noted by the editors at the outset, the “stories of the girls and women throughout the book speak to the need for significant justice reform.” The editors contend that “[g]ender structures social interactions in ways that frequently place girls and women at a disadvantage in many justice systems.”
One premise throughout the book is that “therapeutic justice” provides an “interdisciplinary framework for the use of psychological science to improve justice, minimize bias, and maximize the positive effects of legal decisions and interventions.”
According to the editors, therapeutic justice constitutes a “psychologically oriented and empirical approach to the application of the law with a view toward positive behavior change and rehabilitation, autonomy, and choice, rather than punishment and incapacitation.”
In the chapter that examines women’s experiences in family court, the book analyzes the ways in which “gender bias” and “power and control during marriage or partnership” is often perpetuated during judicial proceedings involving custody, visitation, and orders of protection. Similarly, another chapter focuses perceptively on how “recent justice reforms have created barriers to seeking protection for victims of intimate partner violence.”
One of the most compelling chapters addresses “the criminalization and prosecution of human trafficking victims.” The authors take a harsh look at the “sexist beliefs” that have produced the “disparities” in the prosecution of sex traffickers and their victims in the U.S. In so doing, they examine how “gender norms and roles” stipulate that sex-trafficked women and girls are “consenting agents of the sex trade,” even though these victims are typically controlled by and live in fear of their traffickers.
The sex trafficking chapter also discusses how “race and poverty put the victims at a disadvantage in the justice system, limiting their access to information and resources” to protect themselves against unfair treatment by traffickers and justice officials. In sum, the authors advocate for a “multilevel approach to the social problem of sex trafficking and the development of social programs for victims.”
The most enlightening chapters of the book deal with drugs, race, poverty, mandatory sentencing, and mass incarceration. In 2011, 200,000 women were incarcerated in the United States This staggering number did not materialize overnight or by accident. Between 1980 and 2011, the number of women in U.S. prisons rose by 587 percent. Between 1986 and 1996, the number of women incarcerated for drug offenses rose by 888 percent.
Meanwhile, this huge upswing was not color-blind. As of 2010, black women were three times more likely to serve prison terms than white women; Latinas were 1.6 times more likely.
Albert Camus once wrote that evil almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. While the nation’s “war on drugs” lowered crime rates, it also regrettably swept up and incarcerated a huge number of non-violent offenders, an evil side effect that especially devastated black and Latino communities.
The emergence of therapeutic justice has been one positive response to this evil. Since 1989, 2,968 drug treatment courts have been established in the U.S. By June 2014, 120,000 non-violent offenders were being served annually.
As expertly described in the book, drug treatment courts “offer community-based correctional alternatives to incarceration” for non-violent offenders who commit crimes to fuel their drug use. These courts utilize urinalysis, breathalyzers, and jail to monitor “offenders’ adherence to a sober, pro-social lifestyle, and enforce their compliance with drug treatment.” The power of these courts typically extends to the offenders’ home, job, treatment provider, and recovery community.
While therapeutic, drug treatment courts have not been perfect. The book examines women’s perception of how drug treatment court “defines and addresses their addictions through a system of reward and punishment.” It also analyzes the common “medical and psychological theories” that inform the courts’ understanding of addiction. According to the author, these theories “conceal human differences” that make it difficult “to consider the context of gender and race in legal decisions and practices.”
Ralph Ellison once wrote that education is all a matter of building bridges. This book promotes understanding about the biases and challenges faced by women and girls in our justice system. In promoting such understanding and recommending salient reforms, it is an excellent bridge builder.