Parachute Politicians, Patriarchal Prisons

You'd think of all the people who would understand the basic fundamental principles of justice, a barrister would surely be one. In the case of Ivana Bacik you'd be sadly mistaken.

A politician repeatedly rejected by the public, possibly because of her ivory tower politics and general disregard for the hoi polloi, currently holding forth in the institution that never met a sinecure it didn't like, among her main aims is the undermining one of the essential principles of any justice system, namely that we should all be equal under the law.

Justice should be blind, the accused should be treated with neither fear nor favour.

Ivana you see wants to drag Ireland kicking and screaming not into the twenty first century but back to the nineteenth century, wherein an aristocratic caste enjoyed privileges above and beyond those of the peasantry. In other words she hopes to have female criminals avoid prison as much as possible.

"Women are a particularly vulnerable prison population and there is a strong case for abolishing prisons for them and replacing them with small custodial units for just a small number of people who have committed crimes of violence”

She takes her cues from one Baroness Jean Corston from the UK, another aristocrat ascendant - and who better than a Baroness to pontificate upon privileges - who recently managed to get a report handed down in the UK mandating shorter sentences for women. The baldly discriminatory nature of such a mandate was excused as follows:

The Bench Book tells judges that the problem ‘consists mainly of violence by men against women’. It adds ‘the reality is that some of the most physically violent incidents are committed by men on female partners’.

The document also suggests that aggression against men by women is rare, saying that ‘men and partners in same-sex relationships might also be victims of domestic violence’.

which ignores both the mountain of evidence indicating gender symmetry in domestic violence and that the findings of the report were almost entirely spurious.

Five Myths About The Sentencing Of Female Offenders

“There is an old political maxim that if someone tells a lie often enough, people will believe that it is true. I can only conclude that has happened in this case. I heard the lie that women are more likely to be sent to prison than men and that they are treated much more harshly by the courts, and I was taken in by it.

“I presumed it was true, because I had heard it so often, and I thought it was an absolute outrage. I was so outraged by the inequality in sentencing that I decided to do some research into it. As many people know, I spend a lot of time researching matters to do with prisons, sentencing and justice, and I wanted to get to the bottom of why women were being treated so badly.

“Imagine my surprise when, having looked at all the evidence, I found it was not the case that women are treated more harshly by the courts. The unequivocal evidence is that the courts treat women far more favourably than men when it comes to sentencing. I want to expose five myths today…

The first myth is simple: women are very likely to be sent to prison and are more likely than men to be given a custodial sentence. That is simply untrue.

The second myth is that most women are in prison for petty or non-violent offences in fact 22% of female prisoners are in custody for up to 12 months, which covers all cases heard in magistrates courts and some cases heard in Crown courts. All other female offenders are serving sentences of more than one year, which means their offences were so serious that they had to be dealt with by a Crown court. 78% of the total female prison population, are not serving short sentences for not-so-serious offences, as people would have us believe, but are serving much longer sentences for the most serious crimes.

The third myth is that women are often remanded in custody but then are not bailed out.

When people complain about women being more likely to be remanded in custody and then not sent to prison, it is solely due to women being treated more favourably when they are sentenced. It is not that they are more harshly treated when the decision is made to remand them in custody or give them bail.

The fourth myth is that prison separates mothers from their children:

My understanding is that a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Justice has helpfully confirmed recently that two thirds of the mothers sent to prison who have children were not looking after them at the time. She apparently said of the women being sent to prison:

“Two-thirds of them didn’t have their kids living with them when they went to prison.”

If we are so concerned about the children of women offenders, what about the estimated 180,000 children who are separated from their fathers who are in prison? In this age of equality, what about that much higher figure? Should we not be more, or at least equally, outraged about that? If not, why not?

The fifth myth is that women are generally treated more harshly than men in the justice system

The Baroness' Report

On the specific claims of the Baroness' report:

Neither do most men.

A lot of men likewise come from violent homes, where is the leniency for them.

Yes, but if you were to argue that women shouldn't be allowed serve in the military or hold political office because of their menstrual cycle see how far you'd get.

And fewer are convicted.

While highly debateable in and of itself given the information above, it can certainly be said that the motivations for criminal activity are often fairly straightforward, professional or otherwise.

Of course society is to blame for women who are attracted to bad boys. One can only wonder how much relationship problems feature in the descent of some men into crime as well.

Gang and peer pressure also forms a significant part of criminal behaviour on the part of men, we don't remove their agency do we?

Okay, so we shouldn't jail addicts for the crimes they commit, as long as they're women. Got it.

Or possibly more mentally ill women get caught and are prosecuted. Also I'm not sure where they're getting this picture of the male prison population being a picture of rude good mental health, but I suspect it arises from simply not asking them.

Is this because the women who are jailed are more at risk of suicide prior to going to prison than the male prison population, both male and female prisoners are much more at risk of suicide that the general population?

Much the same way it is outside of prison, you mean.

And white collar men who enjoy sun soaked holidays shouldn't be jailed because it would impinge on their vacations?

So you recommend here more regional womens prisons...

In what way.

Yes because female prisoners would never try to escape.

That's what happens when you go to prison, ducky.

Okay, so what's with all the demands for the equal treatment of men and women in every other role.

There can be little doubt that a similar situation exists in Ireland, given that a woman was just given a seven year suspended sentence for smothering her eight year old son. Her excuse? She was hopped up on drugs. Had the crime been committed by a man there can be no doubt the sentence would have been considerably harsher. Miss Ward is reported to be in a cheerful mood in the Central Medical Hospital. Or the example of the woman who walked free after stabbing an 18 month old toddler.

Hyping the Rumour Mill

Not content with undermining the fundamentals of justice, apparently the basics of the democratic process also elude Bacik's sycophants, among them a journalist and former student of Bacik's, Dearbhail MacDonald, feverishly hyping a "rumour mill" that Bacik will somehow be parachuted into a position of serious power, a Ministerial post.

It seems that neither the hack nor Bacik realise that power is granted by the people to look after the interests of the people; if you can't win the support of the people you should under no circumstances be in power.

Dearbhail headlines with "We have fewer women in parliament than some parts of sub-Saharan Africa". As far as advanced and enlightened polities tend to go Dearbhail, you could have picked a better regional example.

She labours on with "The scales of justice should, in my view, be tipped heavily in favour of positive discrimination in favour of women and other minorities", except women are in the majority.

That means they aren't a minority.

It also means they hold the majority of political power, having the majority of the votes, and apparently are less inclined to vote for people based on their genitalia than they are based on competence and service to their constituency.

One mildly confusing glimmer of light I suppose is that at least Dearbhail is capable of a modicum of introspection, considering the following irreconcilable comments, one hot on the heels of the other:

It goes without saying that any person, male or female, should be elevated to high political office on merit.

That is non negotiable - and any woman worth her salt will tell you tokenism is the enemy of female progress.


Ten years ago, I would have baulked at the notion of quotas for women in politics.

Now I see them as a necessary if temporary stop-gap – say, compulsory for three or four electoral cycles – to embed a culture that is truly supportive of our contribution in politics and public life.

You must admit Dearbhail that there's nothing stopping you or any woman from running for office. If the electorate should reject you in the same way that they rejected Bacik, perhaps the problem doesn't lie with the system or the electorate.

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