Gender, jail, and injustice: Gender interaction effects on judicial sentencing rhetoric

This post continues our series sharing pre-publication versions of chapter introductions in our upcoming book titled “Prosecuting Political Violence: Collaborative Research and Method”

Chapter 7

Gender, jail, and injustice: Gender interaction effects on judicial sentencing rhetoric
by Madison Weaver and Alexandria Doty

One of the main goals of tPP is to examine how political violence is prosecuted within the United States. On the surface, it may appear that these prosecutions should rely on the facts of the case rather than any inherent bias based on one’s gender, race, ethnicity, or religion – but, this is not the case.With this, the question arises of how these biases influence prosecutions within the justice system in negative ways. Many research trends surrounding bias can be illustrated through direct data analysis, but often, the statistical analysis showing correlation is the final step. If these trends are so apparent, it is important to look into possible explanations for the disparities present.

While raw data and data gathering are paramount for this project, what really sets tPP apart are the methodological insights and the possibilities for future hypothesis testing that are proposed within these chapters. Doty and Weaver chose to highlight the value of this dataset further by analysing larger disparities within the court system, such as the impact one’s gender has on their sentence. More importantly, they focus on why there are these differences, and how one can go about recognizing and calling awareness to the problem.

Interrogating incident-driven, empirical data alongside the constantly shifting discursive and rhetorical nature of court documents, Doty and Weaver assess sentencing hearings, sentencing memorandums, judgements, and transcripts of relevant court proceedings to offer a unique look into the mitigation of the standardized suggested sentence for defendants. By gathering relevant documents and performing a corpus linguistic analysis of their content, this chapter identifies a pattern in judicial rhetoric surrounding the intersection of gender and sentence length. It was predicted that the rhetoric used would show gender bias – associating women with male co-defendants, and men with leadership roles – through pronoun usage or placement, word frequency, and sentiment analysis. Utilizing the Prosecution Project’s data set and a variety of both global and specific words commonly found in transcripts about crime, punishment, rehabilitation, and gender, this chapter identifies patterns such as a higher inclusion rate of male pronouns for rhetoric surrounding the sentencing of women and a larger corpus for women in general. This supports the hypothesis that women receive shorter sentences than men because of judicial bias and prejudice within sentencing guidelines. Until more research begins to shed light on these unwarranted and sometimes unconscious disparities, our court’s sentencing will continue to be left in ignorance of the important ramifications that it is causing.

The analysis by Doty and Weaver in this chapter shows how tPP data can be utilized to facilitate a deeper analysis of prosecution of terrorism in the United States. In conducting this study, Doty and Weaver hope to help pave the way for under-graduate researchers seeking to be seen as legitimate scholars. Emerging scholars should fight to follow their interests and passions and know that they too are able to have a real-world impact on something that is meaningful to them.

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