Comment Of The Day: “The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

I am almost caught up on my backlog of Comments of the Day!

This one, by multiple COTDs author Humble Talent, is really two; I’m taking the liberty of combining his later explication with the original comment, as they follow as the night follows day. The topic is bias and double standards in the criminal justice system, and hold on to your hat.

Here is Humble Talent’s 2-for 1 Comment of the Day on the post, “The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”:

You know, every now and again when I’m feeling adventurous, I go to a place I think will have a whole lot of people that don’t think like me and poke at their sacred cows. You meet all kinds of people, and recently, I was given probably one of the better answers to a gender/race issue from the other side yet.

The original fact pattern is that racial activists will cite disparate impact as a problem at every stage of an interaction with the legal system. Black people are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive harsher sentences… All for the same stimulus. All of this, by the way, is true. It doesn’t account for the five-fold disparity between the black and white prison population on a per capita basis, but it is a thumb on the scale.

The juxtaposition is that the disparity between men and women in the justice system is about six times that of the racial disparity I just described. Men are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive harsher sentences… All for the same stimulus. Sonja Starr wrote extensively on this, and despite some of her methodology being questioned, there’s general consensus that she was on to something.

So the question is that if someone is deeply concerned about inequality, that they are genuinely interested in justice for everyone, why wouldn’t you be just as, if not more concerned with the gender disparity, than the racial one?

The shitty answers deny the data: “Men aren’t a disenfranchised class.” Which is true if you look at life as an extension of Marxist class warfare, but if objectively false if you look specifically at the criminal justice system. The slightly less shitty answers at least admit the phenomenon is real, but pretend it’s being addressed already: “Most of the black people we’re talking about are men, so there’s an intersection here, and helping black people will help men.” (This is, by the way, a regular go-to for feminists resisting men’s rights groups “You don’t need to worry about that, we’re equality, we got you covered”.) The next level up is indifference —“I accept that it’s a problem, but I choose to spend my time over here, because I think other things, like race, are more important.” The best level response is something like: “Huh, I never thought of that, maybe I’ll incorporate that into my activism.”

Fine, fine, that last one is kinda pie in the sky. But I got the indifferent answer, and we talked for a while. At some point, a little bell went off in my head: In systems based on the English system, it is generally preferred, not good, but preferred that 100 guilty people go free than a single innocent person receive punishment, because there is no greater injustice. Following that logic, my expectation would be that we probably see the reasonable baseline in the black and male populations. That is that I think that generally, the people who are arrested, charged, and imprisoned generally committed the crimes that they are convicted of.

So are we looking at this from the right perspective?  Are black people and men being railroaded through the system, or are white people and women being given a get-out-of-jail-free card? Now I get that the answer might not lie entirely on one side of that… But it’s an interesting question, and one that passes Kant: If we are aiming at equality, will that be a function of having a more lenient, or harsh system? Will more people go free, or will more people be incarcerated?

…[The question is asked]:  “Suppose the statistical differences in both racial and gender rates of offense are because of actual differences in rates of commission.”

My answer…“All of this, by the way, is true. It doesn’t account for the five-fold disparity between the black and white prison population on a per capita basis, but it is a thumb on the scale.”

The fact that men and black people as a demographic punch above their proportional representation in crimes committed is going to be the lion’s share of why the prison populations aren’t represented. Obviously. But the fact still remains that it is well documented that all other things being equal, men and black people seem to get worse treatment than their white and female counterparts. The most blatant example I can think of is statutory rape. When a male teacher rapes a female student, they’re sent to jail, when a female teacher rapes a male student, not only do they not always lose their jobs, but in the case of pregnancy she’s owed child support.

My point here is that our perception on this issue has historically been “black people are oppressed”, I don’t think that’s true. Back to my rape example… That male teacher DID rape his female student, he SHOULD go to jail. Going to jail isn’t unfair, he isn’t being oppressed, the female rapist is privileged. And while that’s cold comfort and maybe a semantic point to the people calling for equality, I think it’s philosophically important, because I think the black advocates sees judiciary reform as a silver bullet to a lot of the problems within the black community, where in reality, if the justice system treated everyone the same, very little would probably change for the black community, the difference would probably be felt strongest among the white community who all of a sudden wasn’t let off with a warning, wasn’t granted the relatively sweet plea bargain, was denied bail or was denied parole.

26 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, Research and Scholarship, Rights

26 responses to “Comment Of The Day: “The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

  1. dragin_dragon

    I’m actually inordinately proud, as I asked the question that produced the second part of the COTD. Now, I’m just bragging, but HT is truly deserving of the honor.

  2. Humble Talent,
    Lots to think about in that comment.

    Although there are significance differences in the rates you talk about as related to gender and race, personally I think there is much more going on here than simple gender and race; I think poverty rates and accepted cultural “norms” in areas where people physically live puts a much, much heavier thumb on the scale to the rate of putting an entire hand on the scale. Transforming violent neighborhoods into civil law abiding neighborhoods and reducing poverty rates by employing people in jobs that will sustain basic livelihood will put a significant dent in crime rates regardless of gender.

    Also; I’ve heard very reasonable arguments that crime rate percentages as related to overall population don’t change dramatically, what’s changing is, as the overall population increases in numbers so do the number of people that trend towards criminal activity.

    A general trend I learned while in the Army; if you keep your soldiers busy they don’t have time to go out an get into trouble; it’s a far better idea to have Soldiers pissed off at their commander than to have Soldiers in legal trouble. Get the people that trend towards criminal activity actively working in productive jobs and things will change.

    Yes I know those are great goals; the question becomes, how do you accomplish it?

    • The Army comment is very relevant, Z. ‘Make Work’ during my stint was universally resented, but very few had the energy to make trouble that night. 🙂

      I hated the ‘dig a hole here, here and here’ (we had heavy equipment, but this was shovel work), followed by (move the dirt for THIS hole int THAT hole, and so on.’

    • “I think poverty rates and accepted cultural “norms” in areas where people physically live puts a much, much heavier thumb on the scale to the rate of putting an entire hand on the scale.”

      I mean, what you say is obvious, but I’m not sure how it interacts with the topic. Regardless of the reasons that black people and men tend to commit more crime, the fact of the matter is that once they’ve committed it, there’s a disparity between their treatment and the treatment of white people and women… Continuing to go back to “well, they commit more crime and here’s why” reads to me like you’re trying to argue that it’s somehow justified that there are obvious sentencing disparities in the system. Are sentencing disparities a problem in your mind, or not?

      • Humble Talent wrote, “I’m not sure how it interacts with the topic”

        I think there is some real validity to your argument but I also think that addressing the whole hand on the scale (the root cause) is far more advantageous to everyone than addressing the thumb on the scale.

        Perceived imbalances due to race, gender, or anything else become less and less worthy of argument when the crime rates are way down and that should be our goal.

        Arguing that one gender or one race are incarcerated more is just creating more classes that “feel” oppressed. We really don’t need any more classes of people feeling oppressed because they of their ignorant choices getting them into legal trouble. Feeling oppressed is pointless in these arguments since they are incarcerated because they chose to commit crimes; let’s get them to change the choices instead of having them whine that they are somehow a mistreated oppressed class because of their gender, race, or whatever.

        It’s not putting down your argument, to me this was a logical extrapolation of your argument that pointed towards the root cause instead of just “creating” another set of oppresses classes.

        • What the hell are you even talking about? “Creating another set of oppressed classes?” Did you even read what I wrote?

          I spent paragraphs making a case that groups that we’ve thought of as oppressed aren’t actually oppressed and that’s what you got out of it?

          • I read your entire comment HT and it sent me where I went. You don’t want to talk about the direction your comment took me, fine; go argue with someone else.

            Give it a rest.

            • “Give it a rest”? Get bent. Your comments have had so much wrong with them, I couldn’t muster the energy to respond to it all. But nothing pushes my buttons and encourages me to dig in like someone telling me to drop it.

              “I think poverty rates and accepted cultural “norms” in areas where people physically live puts a much, much heavier thumb on the scale to the rate of putting an entire hand on the scale.”

              Right off the hop you’ve conflated two problems: 1) The difference in proportional representation in prisons of the populations we’re talking about to the population at large and 2) The way in which the justice system interacts with people. You’re responding as if I said the first was a problem. It isn’t. When I say “thumb on the scale” I mean the way in which the system nudges black people and men into jail cells for the same crimes that it doesn’t nudge white people and women into them… That’s entirely different from saying that it’s a problem that the percentage of the prison population that is male is 90%.

              If you don’t understand that difference, the conversation dies before it begins.

              “Also; I’ve heard very reasonable arguments that crime rate percentages as related to overall population don’t change dramatically, what’s changing is, as the overall population increases in numbers so do the number of people that trend towards criminal activity.”

              Whoever you’ve heard those arguements from is an idiot, and they’ve made you wrong. Ever since a spike in crime rates in the late 80’s, crime rates per capita in America have basically halved. That actually works out to a decrease in raw numbers, despite the population of America increasing over the same period of time.

              https://www.infoplease.com/us/crime/crime-rate-united-states-1980-2014

              “I think there is some real validity to your argument but I also think that addressing the whole hand on the scale (the root cause) is far more advantageous to everyone than addressing the thumb on the scale.”

              It strikes me how closly this mirrors my example of an indifferent response: “I accept that it’s a problem, but I choose to spend my time over here, because I think other things are more important.” This is a comparative virtue fallacy, something is either a problem on its own merits, or it isn’t. I’m not trying to fix the world here, I’m trying to talk about bias within the justice system and how our perception of this problem might be wrong.

              “Arguing that one gender or one race are incarcerated more is just creating more classes that “feel” oppressed.”

              It’s a good thing I never argued that then. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two most disproportionately represented demographics are also on the receiving end of the kind of bias I brought up, but I made my entire arguement without ever mentioning general incarceration rates. My point was: “[these groups] are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive harsher sentences… All for the same stimulus.

              Me:
              “My point here is that our perception on this issue has historically been “black people are oppressed”, I don’t think that’s true. Back to my rape example… That male teacher DID rape his female student, he SHOULD go to jail. Going to jail isn’t unfair, he isn’t being oppressed, the female rapist is privileged. “

              You:
              “We really don’t need any more classes of people feeling oppressed because they of their ignorant choices getting them into legal trouble. Feeling oppressed is pointless in these arguments since they are incarcerated because they chose to commit crimes;”

              “this was a logical extrapolation of your argument that pointed towards the root cause instead of just “creating” another set of oppresses classes.”

              Seriously… How the hell do you get there from what I said?

              • I’m choosing to ignore everything in your comment except this…

                “Whoever you’ve heard those arguments from is an idiot, and they’ve made you wrong.”

                The argument is actually reasonably accurate, so it looks like you’re the one who’s an idiot.

                https://resurrectedsite.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/crime-rate-graph/

                There is a link within the blog that shows the complete chart graphic.

                Fudge You! #Chris says that that is not an expletive even when taken in context, what do you think I just said?

                • Ok… First off… You haven’t actually told us what you “reasonably accurate” arguement IS, let alone demostrated that it’s accurate. You’ve said that you heard something, deemed it accurate, called me personally an idiot for pointing out that the premise is factually inaccurate and then pidgeoned the board.

                  Hell… even by your own “interpretation” of the numbers what I said is obviously true: “2. There was a 37.97% decrease in the number (5,647,703 decrease) of crimes since between 1991 and 2015.”

                  Why did crime rates increase between 1960 and 1990? Depends who you ask. I’ve heard everything from the introcution of crack cocaine, to relative poverty to the introduction of lead in paint. The fact of the matter is that starting in the late 80’s, and carrying on in an unbroken 30 year trend the crime rate has halved and the raw incidence rate has fallen, yes, by the 5 million crimes per year you stated, despite the population of America increasing by 70 million people.

                  If you want me to take you even slightly seriously, you have to do more than declare I’m wrong. What, exactly, have I gotten incorrect?

                  • HT wrote, “If you want me to take you even slightly seriously, you have to do more than declare I’m wrong.”

                    Exactly where did I declare that you’re wrong?

                    • I’d use “The argument is actually reasonably accurate, so it looks like you’re the one who’s an idiot.” as exhibit A,

                    • Humble Talent wrote, “I’d use “The argument is actually reasonably accurate, so it looks like you’re the one who’s an idiot.” as exhibit A,”

                      And you’d be wrong. I didn’t declare that you were wrong, I declared that the argument was accurate and you were the one who was the idiot.

                      Logic isn’t your forte.

                      Can we be done with this nonsense now?

                    • It’s like I’m dealing with a retarded toddler. Just for the record: You’re saying that contradicting what I said and calling me an idiot isn’t saying that I’m wrong, because you didn’t use those exact words. Ok. Fine.

                    • Humble Talent wrote, “It’s like I’m dealing with a retarded toddler.”

                      Resorting to Animal House School of Thought now; nice.

                  • HT wrote, “You haven’t actually told us what you “reasonably accurate” arguement IS, let alone demostrated that it’s accurate.”

                    Interesting…

                    I stated that “I’ve heard very reasonable arguments that crime rate percentages as related to overall population don’t change dramatically, what’s changing is, as the overall population increases in numbers so do the number of people that trend towards criminal activity.”

                    You stated that “Whoever you’ve heard those arguments from is an idiot, and they’ve made you wrong.”

                    You said the arguments were from an idiot, and I’m wrong; that’s what I specifically addressed in the blog post. So HT, is it an argument or not, make up your mind.

                    I used actual crime statistical data and show you that there hasn’t been more than a 4.06% difference in crime rates in relation to population, it wasn’t even my argument and I’ve proved the argument reasonably correct with facts; you’re just slinging mud.

                    • “I used actual crime statistical data and show you that there hasn’t been more than a 4.06% difference in crime rates in relation to population”

                      That’s a ridiculous statement, one that you wouldn’t make if you have ANY background in statistics. It’s a 4% difference in a range that never peaked over 6%, with eight-figure occurrence rates.

                      I mean… Really…. If you’re going to argue that the difference between 6% and 3% isn’t really that big a difference (Despite it representing a decrease of millions of crimes per year, with a rising population), then by that logic 3% isn’t that far away from 0%, so we should start decommissioning prisons.

                    • You know what? We’ve reached the point where wordpress doesn’t allow any more nesting, so I’m done. You’re stubborn, and wasting my time. Anyone reading these comments is able to judge them ont heir merits, and I think I’ve given my point of view a good showing.

                    • HT wrote, “That’s a ridiculous statement, one that you wouldn’t make if you have ANY background in statistics.”

                      I see you don’t like it when someone puts actual numerical facts up to support an argument, so you attack the messenger. Nice.

                      Then of course after being confronted with numerical facts you turn around and write, “We’ve reached the point where wordpress doesn’t allow any more nesting, so I’m done.”

                      That’s a piss poor excuse to cease a discussion, but I’m glad we’re done with it.

                    • Oh fuck directly off. You “chose to ignore” all but 14 words of a 650 word comment. You don’t get to pretend your’re standing on some kind of moral molehill.

                    • Humble Talent wrote, “Oh fuck directly off. You “chose to ignore” all but 14 words of a 650 word comment. You don’t get to pretend your’re standing on some kind of moral molehill.”

                      It’s my choice what I chose to talk about in these discussions, no one else gets to make that choice for me.

                    • As a retarded toddler once said: “That’s a piss poor excuse to cease a discussion, but I’m glad we’re done with it.”

                    • Humble Talent wrote, “As a retarded toddler once said: “That’s a piss poor excuse to cease a discussion, but I’m glad we’re done with it.” “

                      Dude, you’re letting your anger get the best of you. Just smile and walk away knowing you did your best and I’ll walk away knowing I did my best and we still disagree, it’s not a big deal and it’s certainly not worth the frustration.

                      Catcha later dude.

  3. HT, congrats on the comment. It made me think

  4. Thanks Jack! (Most of all for correcting all the typos.)

  5. Well done HT. I’ve comments, I don’t think in any disagreement, but I think I’m too neat to compose anything.

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