8 Matching Annotations
  1. Nov 2015
    1. This week, I am summarizing a chapter titled “Twisted Sisters, Ladettes, and the New Penology: The Social Construction of ‘Violent Girls’” by Anne Worrall, part of the book Girls’ Violence. In this chapter, Worrall explains the recent gender neutrality that has been forming around incarceration. She explains that the image of the young female inmate has shifted from one of a “troublesome young woman” to that of a “nasty little madam” (p. 41). The author calls to the attention of the reader that criminal acts have long been perceived as the doings of poor, black male individuals. However, in the last few years, perceptions of the gender gap have begun to close.

      Some of the reasoning behind this new construction is in fact due to an increase in female incarceration. In the 1950’s, the ration of men to women offenders was 11:1. In the late 1990’s, the gap decreased to 4:1. While women are still only committing a fraction of the amount of crimes men are committing, Worrall explains that they are now far more exposed to gangs in the UK and the USA (p. 42). Some suggest the rise may be a consequence of post-feminism, which in some cases reject the identification of binaries in gender. This strain of ideology may have caused police officers to begin turning away from the “soft policing” of women (p. 43). Worrall argues this has lead to the “criminalization” of women, in turn. Worrall further explains this transferal of understanding, “They [‘troubled’ young women] have been socially constructed within a range of legal, welfare, and political discourses as, on the one hand, deeply maladjusted misfits and, on the other (and more recently), dangerous folk devils, symbolic of postmodern adolescent femininity”(p. 44).

      Some argue further that women have taken to the streets and crime after the second-wave of feminism gave them false hope and failed to present them with careers with equal pay. Still others argue that the second and third waves of feminism have encouraged women to be intolerant of violence at home, and they have thus begun fighting back (p. 46).

      Worrall herself seems to argue how destructive the new social construction of “girl violence” is, for numerous reasons. One such reason is it obscures the intersection of gender with race, failing to realize or rather admit the socioeconomic and racial factors, but merely adhering to the idea that “black girls” are “cute but deadly” (p. 48). Further, this construction seems to argue that the liberation of women has caused more harm than good, creating violent and aggressive individuals out of the previously submissive women (p. 49). Lastly, and perhaps most outrageous, the construction of “violent girls” promotes an ideology of the vicious cycle of “perverse mothering”, that violent young women will beget more violent and disobedient women, and the pattern will become harder and harder to break. In concluding, all of these constructions are stemming for the prime construction of “violent girls” and adhere only to that ideology, and blatantly ignores outside factors and variables, such as the increasingly more aggressive policing of young women, which is a vicious cycle in its own right.

    1. In the article “Drug Use, Prison, and the Social Construction of Femininity”, author Margaret S. Malloch explores the stereotypes and perceptions of women drug users as understood by women drug users in prison. Malloch explains that it has been socially constructed that “hard” drug use of illicit substances is a masculine activity, while abusing medication is far more feminine. Malloch conducted interviews with women drug users in prison (many serving time for drug offenses) in the U.K to uncover to what extent these women agree with the social construction, or were possibly consciously combating the perceptions (p. 349).

      Malloch explains that women and their bodies have been oppressed and controlled by “the patriarchy”. It is in this social construction and an awareness of the body as the “site” of the drug use, which suggests that women drug users are more masculine because they are taking control of their bodies in choosing when, how, and what they feel via substance abuse. Malloch writes, “While individuals may be born male or female, masculinity and femininity are achieved as the result of a process of disciplinary practices” (p. 350). Through centuries of consenting to our positions in life as men and women, we have reinforced what is considered normal and what is considered deviant. Women drug users in prison are thus doubly deviant, as they are criminals, and non-feminine drug users.

      Further, the author suggests that incarceration and punitive punishment experienced by these women is another form of “penetration” they experience because they failed to conform to the ideal feminine shape (p. 351). Even upon reentry, the constructed role of the woman is forced upon females. In an attempt to “normalize” women reentering society through rehabilitation programs, the image of the wife and mother is forced on them by the politically minded. Intervention takes place to reestablish these drug users as family women who just need some physical and moral discipline to get them back on the right side of things (p. 352).

      Through interviewing these women, Malloch found that many of them were using illegal drugs for the very reason physicians prescribe medication to women. These women were using “hard” drugs as a way to cope with anxiety, depression, or just to escape from the everyday hassle of life (p. 353). However, the illegal method of coping is much more stigmatized than the medical method, even if both can cause dependencies. Women are being “inappropriate” and “masculine” when they choose to handle their problems their own way (p. 354).

      Malloch is not glorifying women’s decision to use hard drugs. She notes, “The pressures and expectations of conformity to constructions of femininity are applicable to women identified as ‘deviant’ as they are to all women” (p. 356). Many of the women enjoyed how thin heroin made them. They expressed difficulty in staying sober not only because they were addicted but also because they gained weight when sober and felt less like attractive. Malloch explains this is part of the “tyranny of slenderness” in which women aspire to look more like the women in fashion magazines (p. 354).

      Malloch concludes by explaining the double edges sword of socially constructed “hard” drug use. In choosing to abuse substances, women are combating the constructions they are confined to. However, when trying to make the decision to quit, they are controlled more than ever by the constructs, as they fear how unattractive they will look and feel once no longer high. Malloch last sentence defines her thesis clearly, “While dominant images of drug use project a ‘masculine’ activity, they ignore the pervasiveness with which ideological constructions of gender affect women both inside and outside prison. The broader operation of penalties located around gender identities must be recognized in terms of their impact and effects on women” (p. 357).

    1. In the article “Effects on Mandatory Minimums on Families and Society”, author Julie Stewart—creator of the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)—explains the draconian style of mandatory minimum sentencing and her observed and personal experience with congress. She begins with a personal anecdote, explaining that her brother served a five-year mandatory sentence for growing marijuana, against the judge’s wishes. Stewart comments on how her brother was one of the “lucky ones”. He had no wife and/or children at the time, while others serving the same sentence are forced to leave their families in the lurch (par. 1-5).

      Stewart then walks the reader through a history of mandatory minimum sentencing, starting back as far as 1790, when leading ships astray with a false light led to a ten-year mandatory sentence (par. 7). Even drug sentencing is not as new as many perceive, having a twenty-year stretch of existence starting in 1951 (par. 8). Stewart claims the reemergence of mandatory minimums for drug offenders in 1986 was the result of three factors. First, Len Bias, a famous basketball player overdosed and died after “main-lining” powder cocaine. Second, crack cocaine came on the scene, and the media’s coverage of it and “crack babies” caused a public scare. Finally, 1986 was an election year, and those running took advantage of the situation (par. 11-12).

      Stewart’s main contention is the removal of judiciary discretion. She argues that of everyone involved in the courts process, the judge is perhaps closest to the defendant. He or she knows the plea-bargain and is familiar with the case being set against the defendant. Stewart explains that mandatory minimums are most frequently applied to drug offenses, and questions why congressmen are creating sentencing laws for drugs alone (with the exception of gun offenses). She furthers her case against congress creating mandatory minimum sentences by explaining an exchange she had with one congressman when she spoke before congress in 1993:

      One of the members of the House Judiciary Committee said to me, "Well, these guys do not do the whole amount of time anyway; they get out on parole." Parole was abolished in 1986. This member of Congress was in Congress in 1986. He should have known that (par 36).

      Stewart ends with a call to the reader to be proactive if they find sentencing discrepancies unfair. After explaining the 100-1 ratio for powder to crack cocaine, she explains congress is in the midst of trying to enforce similar legislation for methamphetamine. While the title of the article is a bit misleading (as Stewart does not delve in to the negative impact experienced by family and society), it serves as a very thorough history of what she views as an extremely unfair sentencing procedure.

  2. Oct 2015
    1. “Three-strikes law causing pricey glut of lifers without parole”, an article by Leah Sottile, describes the expensive and at times unfair nature of the three-strikes law implemented first by Washington State in 1993. The law puts criminals behind bars for life with no possibility of parole when convicted of a third serious felony. The only way out of prison is via a governor’s pardon. Also known as the persistent-offenders law, the three-strikes law was created with two main concepts in mind: get career criminals off the streets permanently, and prevent would-be offenders with the deterrent of punitive sentencing.

      The author of the article describes how often times, non-violent drug addicts who commit robberies to support their habit can get stung by persistent-offender laws. At the time the article was written in 2013, the author wrote, “A…study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that nearly 4,000 prisoners in the U.S. will serve life in prison for nonviolent offenses” (par. 8). Additionally, “Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Washington’s prisoners who are serving life without parole were sentenced under three strikes, according to the state’s Department of Corrections” (par. 9). The author then explains the false correlation between dropping crime rates and mandatory minimums. The drop in crime is actually related to many other factors surrounding policies of gun regulation and policing. The author then goes over the expenses related to keeping prisoners behind bars, stating that it costs Washington State more than $32,000 a year for one prisoner. Couple this with a growing geriatric population with ailments and without Medicare, and prices rise far higher (par. 13-19).

      In concluding, proposed changes to rehabilitation in Washington State are not going particularly swimmingly. Several solutions have been proposed over the years, such as making parole a possibility for three-strikes inmates. Adam Kline, a Washington State senator, further calls for the removal of second-degree assault and second-degree robbery from the books as a “serious felony” warranting strikes. However, the author quotes Kline as saying, “If the only attitude is that these [incarcerated individuals] are evil people and you slam the door and throw away the key, there’s no social support…Rehabilitation isn’t bumper-sticker stuff” (par. 23).

    1. In “Other Measure of Cost Effectiveness”, chapter four of the book Mandatory Drug Minimums by J.P Caulkins et al., the authors consider the cost-effectiveness of treatment programs for drug offenders in contrast to mandatory minimum legislation. Researchers with the RAND think tank, the authors explored three different areas, which could reduce the spending of taxpayers’ dollars. The first area discussed was the ability to reduce other drug use. The authors explain that because tough drug enforcement rose, so did the street price of cocaine. This drove cocaine users to branch out and try other drugs. Because treatment programs do not usually target a specific drug but instead handle any drug use, it is more cost effective to have an offender go through treatment. The treatment programs are potentially targeting a reduction of use in multiple drugs as opposed to incarcerating an individual for just cocaine possession/distribution.

      The second and strongest argument the authors make for treatment programs is its ability to lower crime rates. The authors consider multiple forms of drug related crime, but focus primarily on two types. Psychopharmacological crimes happen when an offender commits a crime while abusing a chemical substance. Then, more commonly, economic-compulsive crime occurs when drug offenders cannot afford to support their habit, and turn to crime in response. Serious crimes are also considered, which umbrella over the former two crimes in many ways. Serious crimes (as defined by California State) are murders, rapes, burglaries, robberies, and aggravated assaults (p. 67). The authors explain that treatment programs have the potential (based on their calculations) to reduce serious crime at ten to fifteen times the rate than either conventional sentencing or mandatory sentencing.

      Finally, the authors delve into calculations surrounding social cost. They explain their thinking by separating social cost into two main concepts: “Drug related crime and health effects associated with drug use” (p. 69). They claim that reducing social cost is linearly related to these two factors. Treatment programs are three times more effective at reducing cocaine use than incarceration in any form (conventional or mandatory) (p. 71). Additionally, the authors remind the reader that treatment programs decrease serious crimes by a ratio of up to 17 times. Together, the authors argue that these factors prove that treatment programs are seven and a half times more effective at lowering social costs to taxpayers than sentencing and incarceration of any kind.

      CITATION:Caulkins, J. P., Rydell, C. P., Schwabe, W., & Chiesa, J. (1997). "Other measure of cost effectiveness".Mandatory minimum drug sentences. Rand Corporation.

    1. Alexander, M. (2012). The color of Justice. The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness (97-139). The New Press.

      This summary will cover a section out of a chapter of Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. The chapter is titled, “The Color of Justice” and discusses how discretion—of officers and prosecutors in particular—coupled with implicit racial bias, has in part led to the mass incarceration of black and brown individuals. This chapter has themes related to Social Construction Theory and the Punctuated Equilibrium Framework, as it explains how the media reinforced public perceptions of the “black, gun-toting drug dealer” which lead to harmful policies such as the 100-1 legislation. Alexander explains a 1995 study in which participants were asked to invasion a drug user. 90% admitted to envisioning a black person (p. 106).

      The section in the chapter most pertinent to our group’s discussion of mandatory minimums is titled “Cracked Up—Discriminatory Sentencing in the War on Drugs”, which deals with some issues surrounding the 100-1 rule. The 100-1 legislation enforces judges to sentence an offender’s possessing or distributing 1 gram of crack cocaine in the same exact way he would sentence an offender possessing or distributing 100 grams of powder cocaine. This clearly targets black drug offenders, because crack cocaine is far less expensive than powder cocaine. The legislative defense for the obviously disparate rule is due to some drug abuse “experts” claiming crack is more harmful to society than powder cocaine.

      The section takes a qualitative turn in expressing the horrific nature of this law in a case study. The section tells the story of eighteen year old Edward Clary, who as a first time offender with a previously clean record, agreed to transport 50 grams of crack cocaine to Saint Lois. He was pulled aside in the St. Louis airport by security for “looking like” a drug courier. This racial bias is made legal by what Alexander considers the Supreme Court’s protection of police discrimination. Because of the decision made in United States v. Brigoni-Ponce, an officer is allowed to take into consideration an individuals “appearance” when deciding if there is reasonable suspicion (p. 131). When Clary was being sentenced, the judge felt he had no choice but to sentence Clary to the minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years (p. 112).

      Clary challenged the constitutionality of the 100-1 ratio, and Judge Clyde Cahill of the Federal District in Missouri made the bold decision to sentence Clary as though he had 50 grams of powder cocaine because Cahill also believed the 100-1 legislation was unconstitutional. Instead of serving ten years, Clary served four. Unfortunately, the prosecution decided they were not willing to give up the ghost and appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit court of Appeals. There, Judge Cahill’s opinion was reversed. Clary was forced to return to prison and serve the remaining six years. This decision was made all the more heartbreaking because by this point in time, Clary had married and had children (p. 113-114). Through the use of this very sad cautionary tale, Alexander displays for her readers how African American individuals are disproportionately punished for the mistakes they make.

    1.  “ ‘Women of Circumstance’—The effects of mandatory minimum sentencing on women minimally involved in drug crimes” by Shamika Gaskins continues in the same vain as all of the other articles we have summarized thus far. Gaskins is perturbed by minimum sentences, claiming they have done an exponentially larger amount of harm than good. It has not been cost-benefit effective, and perhaps Gaskins’s strongest argument, it has left a trail of victims in its wake.

      Gaskins begins by giving a profile of the women who become minimally involved in drug crimes. Gaskins writes, “These women are the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, and nieces, who become involved in crime because of their financial dependence on, fear of, or romantic attachment to a male drug trafficker” (p. 1). In a sense, these women are victim to their circumstance, who were “persuaded, forced or tricked into carrying drugs” so far as Gaskins is concerned. Gaskins, like Mario V. Cano and Cassia Spohn in the article I reviewed last week, argues that non-violent, marginally involved drug offenders are being disproportionally punished by draconian sentencing minimums. Gaskins powerfully recounts the tale of Kemba Smith to bring an emotive strain to her argument. Kemba was a young college student who never used drugs herself, but assisted in drug crimes for fear of a violent man who eventually killed his best friend for informing on him. This story was brought to the attention in 2000, when President Clinton pardoned her (and several other “women of circumstance”) after six years of incarceration (p. 2)

      Gaskins claims “the triangle of women, drugs, and male dealers” like the one explained above is an all too common thread made all the worse by conspiracy laws, essentially punishing them for their poor choice of a partner. Conspiracy laws make prosecutors’ jobs easier by lessening the burden of proof to verifying only that a plan was cooked up. In this case, circumstantial evidence is enough for a conviction. Gaskins explains this is all the more harmful for women, because a woman’s personal relationship with the drug offender alone may be enough to suggest she was knowingly involved in a conspiracy. “As a result, merely permitting drugs in the home, answering the door, or answering the telephone could establish that the wife or girlfriend was a knowing member of the conspiracy,” Gaskins writes (p. 3).

      Gaskins explains further irony as she recounts substantial assistance departures. Explained in my article review from last week, while this offers judges the ability to depart from mandatory sentencing if the offender is willing to inform on others, it requires that the offender have additional information, which many of these women may not. Further, substantial assistance is offered more frequently to high-level offenders than to low-level offenders.

      In concluding, Gaskins’ tone is clearly disparaging mandatory minimums, especially when it comes to women minimally involved in drug crimes because these sentencing laws hold women responsible as if they were the principal conspirator when clearly they were in many instances manipulated into participation, sometimes not even knowingly. Who are the real victims here? Gaskins calls attention to the children of these women. She explains that 59% of women in federal prison have children under the age of 18 (p. 10). I will save the atrocities experienced by these children for another article review.

      LINK: http://ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu:2052/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=168966&sr=TITLE(%22Women+of+circumstance%22--the+effects+of+mandatory+minimum+sentencing+on+women+minimally+involved+in+drug+crimes)%2BAND%2BDATE%2BIS%2B2004

  3. Sep 2015
    1. In the article “Circumventing the Penalty for Offenders Facing Mandatory Minimums: Revisiting the Dynamics of ‘Sympathetic’ and ‘Salvageable’ Offenders” by Mario V. Cano and Cassia Spohn, the authors are making an argument that while mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines were created to alleviate discrepancies in judges’ discretion, the legislation merely created a hurdle to be jumped. Mandatory sentences could be reduced based on elements that are quite classist. If the offender is in school, has any education, is a parent of dependent children, is employed, or was only minimally involved, they could be looking at a departure in the severe mandatory sentencing. This is made possible through the insidious loophole of substantial assistance departure—a defendants’ sentence can be reduced if they offer information that leads to the conviction of another individual. The irony here is that the amount of the reduction is at the discretion of the judge. The authors explain that whether or not an offender was to receive the option of substantial assistance departure was based mostly on their deservingness as an individual. If they were deemed “salvageable” or “sympathetic” defendants, they were more likely to have the opportunity to be of assistance (p. 4). The deservingness of a defendant was based on the qualities listed above such as education and parenthood. The author argues such considerations are a form of sentencing disparities themselves. The same elements that could affect initial sentencing are instead considered when choosing which defendants will be offered assistance departure: their race, ethnicity, their gender…and so on.

      The author further decries mandatory minimums because on average, since their enforcement, sentences have been much longer. The intent of mandatory minimum guidelines was not to increase average sentencing but to curtail disparity in judges’ discretion. However, as has been stated above, judges found a way to impose their discretion regardless. By taking away judge’s discretion, the true consequence was a rise in imprisonment of non-violent, low-level drug offenders. As their sentences lengthened, the proportion of drug offenders in prison rose to half of a pool of 90,000 in 1993 (p. 7).

      After spending some considerable time framing what a “sympathetic defendant” looks like (which was discussed above as the more deserving individuals), the authors moved on to discuss a study they created to test several hypothesis on the matter (p.11-12). In summary, the authors hypothesized that sympathetic defendants would be offered assistance departure more often, and that their reduction would be greater than that of an “unsympathetic” assistant’s. They studied three separate courts around the United States and the decisions made by those courts.

      The authors’ hypothesis was partly confirmed. Prosecutors requested assistance departure more frequently for women, for U.S citizens, and educated individuals who had either graduated or attended some college. However, the author did concede, “On the other hand, and inconsistent with our expectations, the offender’s race, ethnicity, employment status, and marital status, and role in the offense did not predict the likelihood of a substantial assistance departure” (p. 15). In considering reductions, females and employed individuals received larger reductions in their sentence. Also surprisingly, defendants facing larger sentences received larger reductions (p. 16).

      In concluding, the authors are not necessarily arguing against judge’s discretion--they’re merely pointing out that the policies and solutions put in place to curb judges’ discretion are messy and ineffectual. At the federal level, the only variable a judge can consider when sentencing a drug offender is the amount of the controlled substance (and until recently, the quality of the drug—crack or powder). Their past offenses, their employment, and their status as a parent cannot be taken into consideration…that is, until a prosecutor invokes substantial assistance departure. In such instances, a long line of variables can come in to play, reinstating a judge’s discretion entirely.

      LINK: http://ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu:2651/content/39/3/308.full.pdf+html