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How Women In The U.S. Are 'Overcriminalized'

Former prosecutor Valena Beety believes that women are "overcriminalized" in the United States. Beety, now a law professor at Arizona State University, calls herself a "carceral feminist."

She told a symposium on overcriminalization at the university last week that she became a prosecutor "so that I could incarcerate perpetrators of violence, and I thought that would stop cycles of violence ... It wasn't until I actually got the job of being a prosecutor that I realized that wasn't what what I was doing in that job."

Later, Beety became an "innocence litigator ... advocating for people who had been wrongfully convicted." Her book, "Manifesting Justice: Wrongfully Convicted Women Reclaim Their Rights," was published last year.

Beety says that, "Criminalization was intended to benefit victims of gender-based violence, to keep them safe and ensure that those who harmed them were held accountable. Instead, the criminal legal system has done immeasurable damage to those it was meant to protect."

In Beety's view, "Sometimes punishment is imposed on someone who has refused to conform to what the criminal legal system expects of them as victims or as witnesses. And sometimes punishment is imposed on those whose crimes cannot be disentangled from the gender-based violence they have experienced."

Many wrongful convictions are the result of well-known causes, including flawed investigations, mistaken witness identifications, false confessions, and government misconduct.

However, In some such cases, no crime has occurred. Women are more likely than men to be convicted in such cases, Beety says.

Gender stereotypes feed into "no-crime" wrongful convictions, Beety believes. She says that, "If women are

'supposed' to be nurturers, then women who violate their 'womanly' role or who are 'flawed' mothers are blamed and condemned not only because they have been accused of a crime but also because they 'shirk[ed] their duties as a woman and a natural caregiver.' "

Some prisoners are pardoned because of evidence that turns up in postconviction DNA testing. Beety says that "women often do not have that DNA evidence, because they are convicted where no crime occurred. They do not have that magic bullet that helps them in courts, or in clemency."

Beety suggests that journalists and other justice system observers understand that wrongful convictions may involve "more than just factual innocence."

The symposium included 16 other speakers on various aspects of overcriminalization.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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