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The Duality of Woman: Sentencing for Black and White Women

In August of 2021, two women, one who embezzled $40,000 and one who stole $250,000 received sentences of eighteen months in prison and probation, respectively. Unsurprisingly, the woman who stole more money and received a lesser sentence was white while the other woman was black. Former Chagrin Falls, Ohio Village Clerk Debbie Bosworth 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.

Both Bosworth and Judge Holly Gallagher are white women. Gallagher cited that Bosworth paid back $100,00 of what she stole, sentencing her to two years of probation. The County prosecutor, however, stated that he believed the sentence to be “unacceptable in that he believes public employees who steal from taxpayers should go to prison.” The next day, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez—the same assistant district attorney who prosecuted Bosworth—recommended a prison sentence for 51-year-old former school secretary. Hopkins was only charged with one count of theft and plead guilty unlike Bosworth. In addition, Hopkins had emptied $20,00 of her own pension funds to pay back the money she stole and underwent a job replacement program. Hopkins also sought mental health treatment and has received attention for her gambling addiction. However, Hopkins was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Activists rallied back noting Bosworth had committed more crimes over a longer of time, in addition to stealing more money. However, Hopkins, a black woman, received a harsher sentence. “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.” Nationwide, Black people convicted of crimes received 20 percent longer sentences than similarly situated whites who commit the same offenses, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

This case exemplifies the issues faced by women of color in the United States justice system. Although the two women committed the same crime (Bosworth even mores o than Hopkins), their sentences were intensely disparate. This disparity highlights the stark difference in criminal justice as it exists for white Americans and criminal justice as it exists for black and brown Americans. This case also shows the need for intense attention to be paid to sentencing systems. Ohio leaders are calling for a public database tracking all sentences to understand the differences in sentencing between white and black Ohioans. This issue does not only exist in the Buckeye state. Policymakers and court officials must act to ensure that all Americans have the right to a free and speedy trial.

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