We often hear the claim that men are treated unfairly in relation to women by the Judicial System.

One example of the claim can be found here.

The article claims that:

Women shoplifters were less likely than comparable males to receive a prison sentence. They were also more likely to be sentenced to a community penalty or to be discharged....

Men and women stood an equal chance of going to prison for a first violent offence. However among repeat offenders women were less likely to receive a custodial sentence.

Women first offenders were significantly less likely than equivalent men to receive a prison sentence for a drug offence, but recidivists were equally likely to go to prison.

Among first and repeat offenders, women convicted of violence and drug offences were always more likely to be discharged and men more likely to be fined.

In addition, the data of the UK Criminal Justice System, which is detailed and broken down in several different categories, seems to also imply prejudice. Specifically, women are arrested in 18% of the cases, but convicted only in 6% of the cases, or men are 3 times more likely to be get convicted, in relation to their arrests.

So my question is: Are men actually treated unequally wrt women by the judicial system. Is there prejudice against men?

If there are any other sources that could confirm/contradict the claim, they are welcome.


  • 1
    Please cite an example of the claim.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 3, 2013 at 0:45
  • 1
    Ok correlation is not causation. But I compare the gender proportions in arrests and in convictions, and they are different. Can we simply dismiss the claim until we find what the cause of the difference is?
    – voth
    Jan 3, 2013 at 0:47
  • @Oddthinking Is this good enough? Or do we need a scientific publication?
    – voth
    Jan 3, 2013 at 0:50
  • @voth: You certainly don't need a scientific publication, no. This is a good source of claims. The trouble is, it doesn't really tie in with the data you quote. (e.g. it suggest men are 9 times more likely to commit murder than women, so there is little surprise that more men are in prison than women.) I suggest you pick one of the claims in that paper, quote it explicitly, and drop the stats you are currently quoting.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 3, 2013 at 1:04

2 Answers 2


The United States criminal justice system does treat men more harshly than women, at least as far as sentencing decisions are concerned.

Source - The Independent and Joint Effects of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Age on Sentencing Outcomes in U.S. Federal Courts

Using data compiled by the United States Sentencing Commission, we examine the independent and joint effects of race/ethnicity, gender, and age on sentencing decisions in U.S. federal courts. We find that Hispanics and blacks, males, and younger defendants receive harsher sentences than whites, females, and older defendants after controlling for important legal and contextual factors.

The following table shows that women are around 42% less likely than men to be sent to jail and that women receive sentences that are approximately 25% shorter than men.

Table 2 shows the main effects of race/ethnicity, gender, and age on in/out and sentence length outcomes controlling for important legal factors and judicial district.

Table 2

While men are treated more harshly than women by criminal courts, this is not necessarily proof of bias. The authors state:

It is important to emphasize that we are not suggesting that these disparities necessarily result from a conscious or overt hostility toward certain defendant groups or that these disparities are even unwarranted.


we may be lacking relevant information that, if included in our models, would explain the racial/ ethnic, gender, and age disparities in our models. For example, women may be sentenced more leniently than men because they are, on average, more remorseful than men. If we have not adequately controlled for these gender differences in remorse in our models, then any apparent gender disparity may not be “real.”

  • thanx for the reply. I Couldn't upvote due to reputation :( . I also found this, which you could possibly include for a more complete answer.
    – voth
    Jan 3, 2013 at 12:40
  • There are some interesting statistics on the MoJ website, but they haven't been controlled for various factors such as seriousness of offence and previous criminal history so may not be that useful. justice.gov.uk/statistics/criminal-justice/women
    – Tom77
    Jan 3, 2013 at 13:34
  • I did not read the paper in sufficient detail, sorry, but I could not see how they controlled for violence.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 4, 2013 at 13:08
  • 14
    It is important to ... than men Or it could be that there is indeed a bias to treat women more favourably than men.. because of the women are wonderful psychology. There's a psychological (and physiological) reason women cry a lot more than men.. it triggers male sympathy. Just as children's crying trigger's mother's sympathy. Even female judges from early 1900's have noted that female-criminals evade punishment by triggering the sympathy of male juries.
    – user11026
    Jan 9, 2013 at 20:26
  • 3
    What about civil court? A common trope is that women get far more than their share of the assets.
    – user11643
    Aug 13, 2017 at 18:00

Yes, the evidence is overwhelming that the criminal justice system is biased against men. The best study is by Sonja Starr, "Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases," published in 2014 in the American Law and Economics Review. The site acrosswalls.org has a more general review of sex bias against men in criminal sentencing. These studies don't go into the deeper issue of bias against men in the definition of what's a crime.

  • 5
    Welcome to Skeptics! Professor Starr does NOT support your "evidence is overwhelming" claim in that paper. She explicitly disclaims that she has causal evidence ("Despite the rich set of covariates, unobservable gender differences are still possible, so I cannot definitively answer the causal question."), and conjectures seven possible factors contributing to it, of which only one is gender discrimination, which she describes as "plausible".
    – Oddthinking
    Mar 27, 2015 at 3:04
  • 1
    When you reference a paper you should also, please, include in your answer a direct quote or two of some sentences from the paper, which support your conclusion/summary.
    – ChrisW
    Mar 27, 2015 at 14:07

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