The Root‘s Michael Harriet reports that two women—one Black, one white—were convicted of the exact same crime, yet received far different outcomes. And to say the two were guilty of the same offense is slighty misleding, as the white woman’s actions were so over-the-top and so far outreached the sister’s actions, that she was potentially facing 60 years in prison while the Black woman’s maximum time was less than three years.
According to the Plain Dealer, a newspaper out of Cleveland, Ohio, on August 2, former Chagrin Falls, Ohio Village Clerk Debbie Bosworth, the white woman, pleaded no contest to 22 counts of theft in office, tampering with records and money laundering after auditors discovered she had embezzled more than $238,000 over the span of 20 years. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office rejected the 53-year-old Bosworth’s plea and asked a judge to sentence her to prison, even though she wrote a check for $100,000 to repay part of her debt when her scheme was uncovered.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Hollie Gallagher, also white, sentenced Bosworth to two years probabtion, citing the fact that Bosworth paid back some of the money she stole.
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley disagreed vehemently with the sentence which could have landed Bosworth in jail for 60 years, or until she’s 113-years-old. O’Malley issued a statement saying he found the sentence “to be unacceptable in that he believes public employees who steal from taxpayers should go to prison.”
Amazingly, the very next day, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez—the same assistant district attorney who prosecuted Bosworth—recommended a prison sentence for a Black woman, the 51-year-old former school secretary Karla Hopkins for stealing $40,000 from Maple Heights High School.
Although Hopkins appeared before the exact same court, her judge was Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Rick Bell, a while male. Unlike Bosworth, who pleaeded not guilty, though the evidence overwhelmingly showed her guilt, Gallagher pleaded guilty, recognizing the error of her ways. In fact, Unlike Bosworth, Hopkins had already found a new job, completed an in-patient program for her gambling addiction and had promised to repay the money she stole.
But what may be most telling, while Bosworth faced over 20 charges of wrongdoing, Hopkins was only charged with one count of theft in office. Yet, the way “justice” was metted out for the two women didn’t go s common sense and/or “equal justice under the law” would expect.
The Plain Dealer laid out the details regarding Hopkins’ court outcome, reporting:
Hopkins told Bell that she emptied her pension — she didn’t know how much was in it but said, after taxes, she received about $20,000 — to pay her bills after the school fired her. Her attorney, Bret Jordan, said that she began stealing the money while dealing with mental health issues and her gambling addiction but has since gotten treatment and gone through a job placement program. In the meantime, she came up with $5,000 to pay toward her restitution.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez, like Brydle did with Bosworth, sought a prison sentence for Hopkins. He told Bell that the state would be fine with a sentence of between nine and 12 months.
Bell scolded Hopkins for taking her pension money, and sentenced her to 18 months in prison — six more months than Gutierrez requested.
Though neither judge commented on their sentences Cleveland activists had plenty to say on the gross disparity in the dispursion of “justice.” Activists made it plain for anyone who may have been confused that the white woman (Bosworth) committed more crimes, over a longer period of time; stole more money; and had 21 more charges costing taxpayers six times more money than the Black woman (Hopkins).
And as has been stated, She had 21 more charges and cthe white woman (Bosworth) was facing 60 years in prison while the Black woman’s maximum sentence was three years. Yet the Black woman received more prison time than prosecutors wanted her to spend in jail.
“I think it reinforces the lack of trust in the justice system,” said Danielle Sydnor, president of Cleveland’s NAACP chapter. “These types of things are the way the system was designed, and they will continue to happen if we don’t have large-scale reform.”
And this is not just an Ohio issue. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, nationwide, Black people convicted of crimes received 20% longer sentences than similarly situated whites who commit the same offenses. In Ohio, where Bosworth and Hopkins received their disparate senteces, the state’s Black residents are imprisoned at 6 times the rate of Ohio’s white residents, according to the Sentencing Project. That means they receive sentences that are 600% longer than their white Ohio counterparts who have been found guilty of the same crimes.
According to Harriot, “In 1999, a report from the Commission on Racial Fairness found that Black Ohioans are sentenced to prison at grossly disproportionate rates compared to their white counterparts. The study, requested by the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, determined that ‘the consensus of the available research acknowledges that minorities are more frequently sentenced to prison and generally receive harsher penalties than do whites.’”
Efforts have been made to assist judges in being able to hand out sentencing that is moe equal. In 2020, a different Ohio Supreme Court Justice joined with the Ohio Sentencing Commission to create the Ohio Sentencing Data Platform, which would collect data from the state’s criminal courts. The hopes was and still is that Ohio judges will voluntarily use the database that shows the average sentences handed out for similar cases instead of depending on their own individual perceptions and biases.
However, the lion’s share of Ohio judges are choosing to let their biases, be they racial and/or class-based, continue to guide their sentencing decisions as most of them have refused to even sign up for the program, citing the need for them to exercise the freedom of judicial
What may come as a surprise to some, but certainly not Black people, Cuyahoga County has the highest percentage of Black residents in Ohio.