There have been renewed calls to implement a statewide sentencing database in Ohio after the individual punishments handed out to two women who committed similar offenses reportedly manifested a stark disparity in the state’s criminal justice system.
According to Cleveland.com, a White woman accused of embezzling almost $250,000 in public funds was on Monday, August, 2, sentenced to two years of probation, while the same court sentenced a Black woman who stole $40,000 from another public institution to 18 months in prison the next day. Both women were sentenced in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court by different judges.
The White woman, identified as Debbie Bosworth, reportedly stole over $240,000 in the space of 20 years while she was working as a clerk at the Chagrin Falls village utilities and building departments. Bosworth, who was ultimately indicted on 22 counts by a grand jury, made arrangements to refund the stolen funds. She issued a check for an outstanding balance of $100,000 when she was sentenced on Monday. Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Ed Brydle had initially asked the presiding judge to hand Bosworth a prison sentence. She was, however, sentenced to probation.
Meanwhile, Karla Hopkins was accused of stealing $42,000 in dues and fees from students and teachers while she was employed as a secretary and executive assistant at Maple Heights High School, Cleveland.com reported. After she was implicated, Hopkins told the judge presiding over her case that she drained her $20,000 pension money – which was after taxes – to sort out bills she owed following her dismissal. Hopkins’ attorney, Bret Jordan, said the accused had been suffering from mental health issues and gambling addiction around the period she was stealing the money. Jordan, however, said that Hopkins had sought treatment and she was on a job placement program. Jordan also added that Hopkins had managed to raise $5,000 in her efforts to refund the stolen money.
Although Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez told the presiding judge the state preferably wanted Hopkins to serve a prison sentence of not less than 9 months and not more than a year, the accused was ultimately sentenced to 18 months behind bars.
And following the respective sentences handed out to the two women, a number of organizations and former judges said this propagates the notion that people of color or others who may not have the proper resources to defend themselves in court may face stiffer punishments from judges. Bosworth was reportedly facing either probation or over 60 years in prison while Hopkins was looking at probation or up to three years behind bars. The latter’s minimum prison sentence was also nine months.
“It’s kind of hard to figure how you can end up with results that are so different for similar kinds of actions,” Ronald Adrine, a former Cleveland Municipal Court Judge, told Cleveland.com. “Cases like these point out the need for the system to do a better job of reviewing the data because there’s lots of disparity between the way that people of color and white people are treated. But it doesn’t get captured because nobody’s really looking.”
Out of the 34 judges with the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, only 10 have so far expressed their openness to join the Ohio Sentencing Data Platform. Though judges ultimately use their discretion to hand out punishments in cases, the aim of the program is to provide a database they can fall on for reference if they want to compare similar cases and their average sentences.
“I think it reinforces the lack of trust in the justice system,” Danielle Sydnor, the president of NAACP’s Cleveland branch, said. “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.”