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Punishment for Women

 

"While not claiming any particular privileges for women where crimes are concerned, we are not unmindful of the fact that it is harder for a woman to reinstate herself socially than for a man. To this end, punishment has often to be adjusted and differently applied.


In spite of the murmuring minority, this would seem a good place to make the plea that women of experience be heard when the old penal laws are amended and the newer ones framed.


There are times, too, during certain physical crises when women, through nervousness, are apt to be less responsible, periods in which they seem hypnotized by their own hysteria, and in which they might almost be demented.


These are most difficult cases to understand or treat properly, and it is not likely we shall ever do so until the courts have the assistance of psychopaths and clinicians. It is the realization of one's ignorance in such cases that makes the work of the conscientious magistrate, whether male or female, seem burdensome beyond endurance.
It must not be deduced from these remarks that we favor laxness in the treatment of women criminals, or that we deprecate custodial care for those of them who are mentally weak.


The weak-minded are more to be feared than the wicked, in that there is no hope for them. "What is written on their forehead," says a Hindu sage, "will be there and nothing more." We should not allow the imbecile or the feeble-minded criminal to become a burden upon the workers lest the nation become weak. We must segregate these people till they become less numerous, making them as happy as circumstances permit, and, if possible, self-supporting.
To the criminal who is only vicious, and not feeble-minded, jails are often sanatoria where they recover their nerves and their physical strength. Many would die years sooner if it were not for the rest and healing of the prison. Besides, it gives them a chance to break with their old companions, and to start afresh in life if so disposed"
 

Emily Murphy, “A Straight Talk on Courts,” Maclean’s 28.18 (1 Oct. 1920)

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