Fun with figures

A quarter-century ago I blundered into a public discussion about prisons for women. The nice liberal people were celebrating some guvmint decision to build new ones. Being very gullible, they bought the guvmint’s argument that the existing “PFWs” were crowded dungeons, and something more “modern” and fashion-conscious was required. Too, they were housing the female inmates too far away from their families and friends. Feminists were appalled at the treatment these women were getting, when all they had done was commit serious crimes.

It was left to me, as one of the four “token conservatives” in the Canadian media at the time (our numbers have shrunk since then) to point out that the guvmint wasn’t replacing women’s prisons, but adding to them. For thanks no doubt to feminism, the number of women committing serious, “masculine” crimes had risen substantially, both in raw numbers and in proportion to the men. The old dungeons would be “renovated” (i.e. expanded); in addition, more were needed to accommodate these surging numbers.

Still, even after the new building programme, there would be far more spaces for men — more than four times, if memory serves. As liberal and progressive thought had already concluded that statistical inequality is an unanswerable proof of prejudice, I called attention to the fact. Canada’s criminal justice system was, obviously, deeply prejudiced against men. Something would have to be done.

One answer would be to reduce male inmates, until numerical equality were achieved. Indeed, money could be saved by simply emptying existing prisons of men, and filling them with women, instead. The great majority of, for instance, rapists and murderers would have to be pardoned and released. But I could foresee objections from the same people who wanted nicer digs for women — they would find the old prisons for men even less upbeat than the prisons for women — so dismissed this proposal as too radical (in the sense of, extreme).

A more moderate approach would be to achieve equality from both ends. By only halving the number of male inmates, while doubling the number of female, the same end could be achieved, over time. The guvmint could establish quotas for equal sentencing between the sexes, and instruct the courts to decide cases and assign punishments on a 50/50 basis going forward. Perhaps we could have a moratorium on putting men in prisons for the first few years, as an immediate step in the right direction.

Thenceforth, men could still be charged, even nominally convicted, but would be immediately exonerated if the crime were non-violent (such as a peaceful bank robbery), or even if violent, so long as the victims were only maimed, not killed. Far fewer men would go to gaol as a result. Remember, the target was half, so if that goal weren’t met, the requisite number of actual recidivist murderers would also have to be discharged, until each judge had met his quota.

But as the number of female convicts must still be doubled, to achieve “equity,” women would be convicted and sentenced to much longer terms, for much lesser crimes. A woman guilty of, say, an illegal turn while driving, or a parking violation, would get approximately the same sentence as, say, a man who had murdered his wife, in order to correct this historical injustice — especially as it goes back such a long way.

True, I anticipated, feminists, who never stop complaining, would say that the treatment of these women was “unfair.” But their point could be easily ignored. For, “fair” is a subjective judgement, whereas statistics are perfectly objective.

How surprised I was by all the angry letters-to-the-editor. After all, I was using the same reasoning nice liberal people took for granted, in rectifying inequalities elsewhere. How could they just stand by, and let an historical injustice be perpetuated?

Time flies. My old columns seem dated now, for they only mentioned men and women. Were I making the argument today, I would have to propose that precisely equal numbers of cisgender males, cisgender females, and each of the seventy or so categories of the transgendered, be incarcerated. There can be no justice until this is achieved.


[A related piece in the Catholic Thing, here.]