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Crime & Punishment, applied to the tune of racial bias

When it comes to the criminal (in)justice system it comes as no surprise that there are clear differences in how the court deals with women from differing ethnic backgrounds. For instance, members of the white community tend to be treated with more leniency in the courts compared to their Black counterparts. This example played out clearly in a pair of cases in Cleavland, Ohio in 2021.

Debbie Bosworth and Karla Hopkins, two women in Clevland, OH who were accused of, and charged with fraudulent activity, both faced sentencing just one day apart in the same Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. One of these women was responsible for embezzling over $248,000 and the other, $42,000. Respectively, one was sentenced to probation and the other, 18 months in prison. Debbie Bosworth, a white woman, was charged with stealing almost 6x the amount of money Hopkins was accused of, yet never would step foot in a penitentiary for these actions. The clear discrepancy in the sentencing alone is enough to draw some suspicion on what caused the drastic variation. Some level of racial bias seems to be evident in the discussion of these two women's cases.

The presentation of the two women in each of the articles is noticeably different. Beginning with the photos used at the head of the article. Bosworth is shown sitting calmly awaiting her sentence in court. She appears relaxed and put together, despite the charges she should have been faced with. Conversely, the photo chosen for Hopkins shows her being handcuffed by an officer. She is criminalized before the reader even has a chance to find out what the article reveals, which is that she in fact could have been considered ‘less guilty’ than Bosworth.

Throughout the article, the language used to describe the situations of each of the ladies, also reveals some evident racial bias. Bosworth, for example simply “embezzled” money from her community, while Hopkins “stole” the money. The amount of money is also classified as Bosworth “nearly” took a large sum of money while Hopkins took “over” a smaller sum. This chosen language invites the reader to believe Bosworth’s fraudulent activity is somehow reasonably minimized, while we should be blown away by how much money Hopkins was able to steal.

Arguments made in defense of Bosworth, included the fact that she made some attempts to repay the money and provide restitution for her actions. This intent to do right by her already illegal actions was convincing enough to keep her out of prison and on probation. Whereas Hopkins was faced with arguments that she “stole from kids” and was struggling with “mental heal issues and a gambling addiction”. Again, we see the image of criminality being painted for only one of the women being faced with the same charges. This criminalization caused Hopkins to be sentenced to time in prison.

While it would be easy to say that Hopkins was simply more criminal, or more guilty than Bosworth, the objective facts simply do not support that claim. What seems to be a more significant driving force in the sentencing, and articles written thereafter, is a clear racial undertone that significantly changed the life courses for these two women.

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