Study Shows Enormous Sentencing Discrepancy Against Men


A study1 by Sonja Starr, a University of Michigan law professor, shows that men receive average sentences 63% longer than women who commit similar crimes. (Notably, Starr’s sample was of the federal justice system. 59% of the crimes in the sample were drug crimes.)

This is a significantly larger effect than most previous studies have found. Starr argues – I think correctly – that her study improves on previous sentencing studies because, rather than just comparing trial outcomes, her data covers decisions made by the justice system from arrest through sentencing (if there is a sentencing), including pre-trial decisions made by prosecutors. The inclusion of prosecutor decisions is crucial, because prosecutors have enormous discretion, and might use that discretion to discriminate based on factors that shouldn’t matter, like sex and race.

The largest cause of the 63% disparity seems to be decisions made by prosecutors before trial. That is, most of the gender disparity in sentencing comes about because prosecutors are “selectively lenient” in women’s favor. Some of this is arguably justifiable- for example, prosecutors are a bit more likely to take pity on single parents, most of whom happen to be women. But clearly, some of it is just plain old sexism, and cannot be justified. The system needs reform.2

Unsurprisingly, the discrepancy is harshest for Black men. Among Black people arrested, Black men receive sentences that are 74% longer, versus 51% for non-Blacks: (The “non-Blacks” in Starr’s sample were nearly all white.)

Starr writes (emphasis added):

This study finds dramatic unexplained gender gaps in federal criminal cases. Conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables, men receive 63% longer sentences on average than women do. Women are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted. There are large unexplained gaps across the sentence distribution, and across a wide variety of specifications, subsamples, and estimation strategies. The data cannot disentangle all possible causes of these gaps, but they do suggest that certain factors (such as childcare and offense roles) are partial but not complete explanations, even combined.

These estimates are much larger than those of prior studies, which have probably substantially understated the sentence gap by filtering out the contribution of pre-sentencing discretionary decisions. In particular, this study highlights the key role of sentencing factfinding, a prosecutor-dominated stage that existing disparity research ignores. Mandatory minimums—prosecutors’ most powerful tools—are also important contributors to gender gaps in drug sentencing. Understanding the relative roles of prosecutors and judges is important. Gender disparities have been cited to support constraints on judicial discretion, including when the Sentencing Guidelines were adopted. But such constraints typically empower prosecutors, so if prosecutors drive disparities, they could backfire.

That last point is essential. Insofar as discrimination in our judicial system is driven by prosecutors, typical attempts at reform will only make the problem worse.

It’s interesting to consider that there is, as far as I know, no good data for measuring any disparity in how likely women and men are to be arrested for the same crimes (Starr’s data sources measure from the moment of arrest). If women are systematically less likely to be arrested by police in the first place (and I suspect they are), then Starr’s results may be underestimating the sexist disparity.

  1. Starr, Sonja B., Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases (August 29, 2012). University of Michigan Law and Economics Research Paper, No. 12-018. Link to paper. []
  2. For the record, I think our criminal justice system is generally far too harsh. So I would prefer that we equalize sentencing by reducing men’s sentences, rather than increasing women’s. []
Posted in Prisons and Justice and Police, Race, racism and related issues, Sexism hurts men | 17 Comments  

Say Nothing If You Cannot Say It Well

I think this week’s Sa’di Says speaks for itself:

A seasoned speaker knows his craft demands
careful thought or his words will go to waste.
Follow his example. Say nothing if
you cannot say it well; make silence
the voice of your wisdom. Don’t let others insist
you’ve said enough; and if they then complain
you speak too slowly, let them wait. They’ll learn:
the gift of speech reveals that we’re not beasts,
but even beasts are better civilized
than those who ignore this gift’s proper use.

To say anything more would be to demonstrate the value of the warning these lines contain, though they do leave me with some questions I think are worth reflecting on: When and why have you chosen silence instead of speaking up? What have you risked in making that choice? In the end, was it worth it?

Posted in Iran, Writing | 3 Comments  

Open Thread And Link Farm, How To Locate Bruce Willis edition


Post what you like, when you like, dressed however you like. Self-linking turns caterpillars into butterflies, and who doesn’t want that?

  1. Children in Danger: A Guide to the Humanitarian Challenge at the Border | Immigration Policy Center
  2. Federal Government Sued for Failure to Provide Legal Representation for Children
  3. Haughty eyes in Murietta
  4. Atheist/Humanist Statement Condemning US Border Crisis & Nativist Attacks on Undocumented Immigrants
  5. Seven Reasons Police Brutality Is Systemic, Not Anecdotal
  6. Obama should say no to a religion-based exemption on hiring discrimination - Los Angeles Times
  7. Getting beyond how the ‘Factual Feminist’ is wrong about the prevalence of rape | Family Inequality
  8. “It’s not like he claims to be some great humanitarian, but you would think that Americans would understand the first amendment at this point.Ironically, this sentence itself is a good illustration of someone not understanding the first amendment.
  9. First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law, for a Drug Not Covered Under the Law
  10. Whatever happened to the clobber texts for slavery? Wonderful post comparing the way that “clobber text” Biblical defenses of slavery – and the responses to them – are virtually identical to arguments we hear today over women’s place in the church and homosexuality.
  11. Here’s what the world would look like if we took global warming seriously – Vox
  12. Global climate change solution still possible … but barely, says report –
  13. Health Insurance Is Not a Favor Your Boss Does For You That virtually 100% of Conservatives seem to view employer-provided health insurance as some sort of gift given to workers – rather than payment owed workers in exchange for labor – is stunning. “Why don’t you pay for your birth control yourself” is one of the most ignorant political cliches ever.
  14. The 19th-century health scare that told women to worry about “bicycle face.” As a friend of mine pointed out, the association between suffragettes, being “unfeminine,” and bikes may be why the nasty neighbor in “The Wizard of Oz” is depicted as a bike rider.
  15. Colorado offered free birth control–and teen births fell by 40 percent. Also, teen abortions fell by 35%. But all the so-called pro-lifers are going to passionately oppose this and similar measures, because they think it’s worth baby after baby after baby being murdered (in their view) so long as sluts are forced to “take responsibility” for having sex. I sort of hope that they are insincere about thinking fetuses are babies, because if they’re sincere, then opposition to birth control is a genuinely horrifying stance.
  16. Unveiled: A Support Group For Ex-Hijabis
  17. The Summer’s Most Unread Book Is… – WSJ If you don’t want to click through, the answer is Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Although it’s only three months old at the time the data was collected – I wonder if it’ll do better once it’s a year or two old. Via Althouse.
  18. Speaking of butterflies, this Radio Lab episode includes information about how caterpillars become butterflies that I thought was really neat.
  19. Cathy Meyer: Dispelling The Myth Of Gender Bias In The Family Court System The anecdotal account here is worth reading. Be cautious, though – some of the statistics she quotes, when I tracked them down, turned out to be from “Dividing The Child,” which was an excellent study of California custody outcomes published in 1993.
  20. A response to some MRA statistics. I don’t agree with every word of this, but still found it worth reading. Generally, I agree with the critique of MRAs as not actually seeming interested in solving these problems, but disagreed with many details, such as the implication that workplace deaths are about machismo when elements like class, lack of labor union power, and lack of negotiating power are much more important.
  21. Mirror of Justice: Brendan Eich was only the beginning . . . An inappropriate survey at a major bank has conservatives worried about workplace discrimination. The survey was stupid, but I’m skeptical that it was meant as a threat or the start of  purge. Let’s not attribute to malice what’s probably caused by incompetence.
  22. ‘I’m a Survivor of Rape and Intimate Partner Violence–And I’m a Man’ | TIME I hate the headline, but the article is good.
  23. Who Gets Custody Now? Dramatic Changes in Children’s Living Arrangements After Divorce – Online First – Springer In a nutshell, mothers sole custody is heading down, joint custody is heading up. We need more studies to know what “joint custody” means in practice, though. If it means more equal parenting arrangements, great. If it means “mothers do nearly all the work but have less support and legal rights” then not great.
  24. Breaking the Science: Misrepresentation of Gender Bias in the 1989 Report of the Gender Bias Committee of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court This writer seems likely to be an anti-feminist, but his argument here is persuasive. I’ve used this 1989 report as a reference in the past, but I won’t do that again.
  25. Trigger Warning: Breakfast — The Nib  — Medium Extremely well-done cartoon about the kind of rape that George Will would claim isn’t a rape. Thanks for the link, Ruchama.
  26. Manassas sexting case: If the erect penis photo story is true, prosecutors have lost it.
  27. Fireworks filmed from a drone are seriously cool (via):

Posted in Link farms | 96 Comments  

Shared Workspace in SE Portland, $140-$170 a month

(Poking this back to the top, because we’re once again seeking new co-spacers!)

I draw my comics at a shared office space in Portland (Oregon), on SE Foster and Holgate.

We’re currently looking for mild-mannered, friendly writers, cartoonists, visual artists, programmers and anyone else who wants a affordable workplace, to share a quiet, air conditioned work space.

- Large desks (5 x 2.5 feet).
- High speed internet and utilities included.
- 24/7 access.
- Microwave, refrigerator and half bath.
- Close to food, gaming shop and other assorted awesomeness.
- On the 14 and 17 bus lines.
- $140/ or $170/month — incredibly affordable.

There is currently one desk available, which is freestanding (rather than part of a row of desks, like in the picture) desk that is larger than a standard desk near some big windows. However, two more desks will be available on August 1. One of them is an ordinary desk (like in the picture); the other is a corner desk, and so is larger.

I can say from experience, being able to get out of the house to work is really, really nice, and boosts productivity. If you’d be interested, drop me an email.

Posted in Whatever | 2 Comments  

The Calligraphic Art of Azra Aghighi Bakhshayeshi – The Tehran Times

The Tehran Times has a beautiful gallery up of calligraphic art, which I know next to nothing about, except that I think it’s beautiful. Here are a couple:

You should check out the rest for yourself.

Posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Iran | Leave a comment  

Not Much Time Remains

I am posting this week’s Sa’di Says, “Not Much Time Remains,” in memory of my friend Adam Schonbrun, who died in February:

I know life leaves me with each breath I take,
and these last fifty years I’ve been asleep.
Not much time remains. How, in what’s left,
can I make up for all I haven’t done?
The man who chooses not to start his work
will die when God beats the drum of his death,
and he will die in shame, his heart empty.

A couple of years ago, when I turned fifty, I suddenly realized the truth of something a writer with whom I was friendly told me when he was in his fifties and I still had a decade and a half to go. “Once you hit a half century,” he said, “the next twenty years of your life somehow seem a whole lot shorter than the previous twenty. If you don’t start doing what you really want to do, it’ll be too late before you know it.”

He spoke from experience. He had only recently emerged from a long and profoundly unhappy marriage, which he had always talked about as a kind of voluntary imprisonment. I didn’t then, and I don’t now, know the details—except that he was careful not to suggest that his wife was solely to blame. What I do know is that everything about him seemed to change once their divorce was final. The way he dressed, the way he talked, the way he chose to spend his time—all of it, I don’t know how else to describe it, suddenly filled with light.

It would be easy to attribute these changes to the fact that my friend had fallen in love. In the pop-culture movie version of his life, no doubt, that’s how the director would frame it. Important as that new love was to him, however, to focus on it alone would be to miss the fact that he had, at last, begun devoting himself to the writing he’d felt he was always meant to do. Not that he hadn’t been writing before. He’d published books and written articles, and he’d enjoyed it, but that work had become at some point more about his career than his passion. Choosing this work, claiming it as that which truly fulfilled him, laid the foundation of all the other changes that followed.

What Sa’di says in the lines I have translated is absolutely true. Whether or not you choose to begin the work you are called to do, you will die, and to die having chosen in the negative will be to die in shame–because it will mean you have chosen not to risk failure. Or, perhaps more to the point, you will have chosen not to risk being seen in the act of failing. At its core, after all, that’s what shame is: the desire to keep hidden the failings we believe constitute our deepest, truest selves. For at the heart of shame is not just fear of the world’s negative judgment, but the conviction that the world–having seen, having known, your failings–will conclude that you might as well not have existed in the first place, that existence was more than you really deserved.

Adam Schonbrun and I met when we were in eighth grade at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, and our decades-long friendship was nothing if not rocky. The details of that rockiness are unimportant. What matters is that I miss my friend, and that, in missing him, I am reminded of what made him such a compelling presence, not just in my life, but in the life of anyone who knew him: the single-minded commitment that he made to the work he felt himself called to do, being a poet. I do not mean by this to dismiss or trivialize the value of who he was as a father, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a teacher, or a friend, but the degree to which he was able to give himself wholeheartedly to those roles–at least this is how it always seemed to me–was a direct result of giving himself first and foremost to the making of the poems through which he found and out of which he spoke the meaning of his life.

I do not think that Adam died in shame; nor do I think he died with his heart empty. On the contrary, I think his heart was full. I hope people are able to say that about me when my time comes.


Posted in Writing | Leave a comment  

Conservative blog recommendation?

Since I no longer contribute to the comments at Ethics Alarms, I’m hoping to find a replacement. Could anyone recommend a conservative blog with a good comments section to me?

What I’d like is a comments section where:

1) People who don’t agree with the blog’s views are treated respectfully.
2) Detailed back-and-forth discussions of issues are welcome.
3) The comments are neither too busy nor too empty for reasonable conversation to happen. (Blog comments that run into multi hundreds of comments are too busy to be good for the kind of discussion I prefer.)

For that matter, if anyone wants to recommend any other blogs worth reading – liberal, conservative, knitting-based, whatever – that would be fine too.

Posted in Whatever | 16 Comments  

All The Snarkiest Quotes From The Judge’s Ruling Overturning Kentucky’s Gay Marriage Ban


Judge John G. Heyburn II, a Bush appointee, rules that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This is, I believe, the first such ruling in a southern state. The ruling is stayed until the Sixth Circuit weighs in.

You can read Judge Heyburn’s surprisingly snarky ruling here, but if you don’t want to read the whole thing, here are the fun bits:

The Court will begin with Defendant’s only asserted justification for Kentucky’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage: “encouraging, promoting, and supporting the formation of relationships that have the natural ability to procreate.” Perhaps recognizing that procreation-based arguments have not succeeded in this Court, nor any other court post-Windsor, Defendant adds a disingenuous twist to the argument: traditional marriages contribute to a stable birth rate which, in turn, ensures the state’s long-term economic stability.

These arguments are not those of serious people. Though it seems almost unnecessary to explain, here are the reasons why. Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the Court fails to see, and Defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreation among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have. [...]

The state’s attempts to connect the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage to its interest in economic stability and in “ensuring humanity’s continued existence” are at best illogical and even bewildering. These arguments fail for the precise reasons that Defendant’s procreation argument fails.

Numerous courts have repeatedly debunked all other reasons for enacting such laws. The Court can think of no other conceivable legitimate reason for Kentucky’s laws excluding same-sex couples from marriage. [...]

…that Kentucky’s laws do not deny licenses to other non-procreative couples reveals the true hypocrisy of the procreation-based argument. [...]

More importantly, the imperfect line-drawing argument assumes incorrectly that the Court bases its ruling on a comparison between same-sex couples and other non-procreative couples. On the contrary, this Court bases its ruling primarily upon the utter lack of logical relation between the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriages and any conceivable legitimate state interest. Any relationship between Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage and its interest in procreation and long-term economic stability “is so attenuated as to render the distinction arbitrary or irrational.” [...]

Those opposed by and large simply believe that the state has the right to adopt a particular religious or traditional view of marriage regardless of how it may affect gay and lesbian persons. But, as this Court has respectfully explained, in America even sincere and long-held religious views do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted.

Posted in Same-Sex Marriage | 3 Comments  

A twitter conversation with Cathy Young about rape, sex, and consent.

Below the fold.
Continue reading

Posted in Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 108 Comments  

Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Unconstitutional?


Sasha Volokh brings up the question with a quote from Justice Stevens’ concurrence in City of Boerne v. Flores.1

In my opinion, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) is a “law respecting an establishment of religion” that violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.

If the historic landmark on the hill in Boerne happened to be a museum or an art gallery owned by an atheist, it would not be eligible for an exemption from the city ordinances that forbid an enlargement of the structure. Because the landmark is owned by the Catholic Church, it is claimed that RFRA gives its owner a federal statutory entitlement to an exemption from a generally applicable, neutral civil law. Whether the Church would actually prevail under the statute or not, the statute has provided the Church with a legal weapon that no atheist or agnostic can obtain. This governmental preference for religion, as opposed to irreligion, is forbidden by the First Amendment. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 52—55 (1985).

I haven’t thought about the matter before, but this argument seems legitimate.

Sasha points out that if so, “the solution isn’t necessarily to invalidate RFRA. It could be to extend RFRA to apply to deeply held secular convictions, as Justice Harlan suggested in his concurrence in the result in Welsh v. United States (1970).”

Here’s a position paper on the RFRA from the Secular Coalition For America.

  1. I say “from,” but technically, the quote isn’t “from” Stevens’ concurrence – it is his entire concurrence. []
Posted in Anti-atheism, Atheism, Supreme Court Issues | 34 Comments