Criminal Justice

Felicity Huffman's 14-Day Prison Sentence Is Too Harsh

The U.S. incarcerates people for petty crimes at an alarming rate.

|

It offers a "clear lesson in systemic racism." It shows "there is no justice." All in all, it's too lenient—it's just "unfair."

"It" is actress Felicity Huffman's 14-day prison sentence, along with 250 hours of community service, a $30,000 fine, and one year of supervised release. The Hollywood star is being punished for her involvement in a college admissions scandal in which she pleaded guilty to paying someone $15,000 to rig her daughter's SAT scores. It's true the sentence isn't fair, but not because it isn't sufficiently punitive. On the contrary: it's too harsh.

The knee-jerk reaction is understandable. Defendants who are less privileged than Huffman have received harsher sentences for lesser offenses, something not lost on the many disgruntled media pundits and Twitter users who weighed in on the decision. But the desire to inflict maximal suffering on Huffman simply because others have suffered more is pushing in the wrong direction. Folks who have endured worse punishments for lesser crimes are not helped by throwing the book at Huffman. We should try to lessen the disproportionate punishments faced by low-income and non-white defendants; destroying the privileged gets us the wrong kind of equality.

Take the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, who I wrote about in March after the college admissions scandal first broke. In 2011, the Ohio mom used her father's address to ensure her kids received a better education in his superior school district. For that offense, she served nine days of a five-year prison sentence, completed 80 hours of community service, and received three years probation—a harsher punishment when considering her less severe crime.

Williams-Bolar is black, and she isn't a celebrity, but those aren't the only differences between her and Huffman. The former wanted the basics for her kids; the latter wanted to buy her daughter's way to prestige.

But because Williams-Bolar was harshly punished, does that mean Huffman should meet a worse fate? To answer in the affirmative is to say our criminal justice system is bad because it penalizes people disproportionately. But that is not, in fact, the primary problem. The problem is that it excessively penalizes so many people at all, generally by criminalizing everything under the sun. Throwing Huffman behind bars and tossing away the key would do nothing to address our unenviable distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Indeed, the U.S. currently has an approximate 1.3 million people languishing in its state prisons, and that doesn't account for local jails, federal institutions, or immigrant detention centers. Of that 1.3 million, only 55 percent committed violent crimes. The rest are there for offenses—like drug convictions—where the offender likely poses no threat to the general public.

As Chandra Bozelko points out in the Washington Post, handing down an exceptionally retributive sentence to offenders like Huffman will not help the Williams-Bolars of the world. In fact, it will do the opposite. "When we try to cure disparities by simply incarcerating more white, or wealthier, defendants, the entire population ends up getting punished more severely," she writes. "A study conducted by the sentencing commission found that a decline in racial disparities in sentencing has been driven not by shorter sentences for everyone but by more people being sentenced to longer periods under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines."

Lori Loughlin, of Full and Fuller House fame, is also implicated in the college admissions scandal: She is pleading not guilty for allegedly paying $500,000 to sneak her daughter into the University of Southern California as a fake rowing recruit. Her and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are each facing 40 years in prison—more than some serve for murder.

NEXT: Navy Confirms Authenticity of UFO Videos Published by Blink-182 Frontman's Extraterrestrial Research Organization

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “”It” is actress Felicity Huffman’s 14-day prison sentence, along with 250 hours of community service, a $30,000 fine, and one year of supervised release. The Hollywood star is being punished for her involvement in a college admissions scandal in which she pleaded guilty to paying someone $15,000 to rig her daughter’s SAT scores. It’s true the sentence isn’t fair, but not because it isn’t sufficiently punitive. On the contrary: it’s too harsh.”

    Yeah, the rich and influential should never see jail time or fines.
    After all, they’re so much better than all us little people.

    1. Did you even bother to read the article?

      1. Except….

        “But the desire to inflict maximal suffering on Huffman simply because others have suffered more is pushing in the wrong direction.”

        Is the argument. There is not maximal suffering here per what she was facing and likewise was quite low as a percent of the maximums she faced. It is a subjective argument. She agreed she committed a crime and got a comparatively light sentence. If you dont like any jail time, change the laws.

        1. That particular part of the argument has nothing to do with Huffman or this particular case. I think it’s a pretty valid argument. The fact that some people suffer injustice isn’t a good reason to inflict more injustice on other people. It’s like saying that the solution to police shooting too many black people is for them to shoot more white people.
          Now whether this punishment counts as injustice is another question.

          1. the solution to police shooting too many black people is for them to shoot more white people.

            A lot of “progressives” would be OK with that.

            1. As soon as one recognizes that any sort of a criminal intent is involved, the real question must always actually be whether the punishment allotted is harsh enough. Some punishments are excessive, but many are deplorably insufficient. Who would seriously argue, for example, that nine years of litigation and a night or two in the Rikers Island penitentiary is adequate compensation for the highly serious crime of criminal “parody”? See the documentation at:

              https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    2. I don’t even know why what she did is a crime.

      She paid someone to skip the line. To lower the standards. These groups can set whatever standards they want – including giving special privilege to specific groups. Why shouldn’t they be able to do so for individuals?

      It would seem to me this is more a tort thing between the universities and whoever was pocketing the money to bypass existing procedures, not a criminal matter (though I could see an argument being made that the payee is committing a crime), and certainly not one involving the people *paying*.

      1. I don’t understand this either. Could it have something to do with the SAT scores? Who is in charge of those?
        It’s only 14 days, but I still feel bad for her. You just know some other inmate is going to beat her up and steal her pudding. Prison can ruin people. I know it’s only 2 weeks, but I expect her to emerge hardened and heavily-tattooed.

        1. Or, the jail might be safe enough (I don’t know what kind of facility she’s going to), but the year of “supervised release” (along with the 250 hours of “community service”, which is about 31 eight-hour days of unpaid labor) may be what messes her up. What kind of “supervision” would be make sense in a case like this? How would, say, being forbidden to drink alcohol for a year in any way fit her crime?

      2. I agree,a crime,hardly?

      3. Her crime: she couldn’t pay a big enough bribe and did not direct it to the right people. Bushes and Kennedies donate buildings to get their half-witted descendants into Yale and Harvard. Huffman probably could have gone a lot higher than $15,000, but not into the millions.

    3. Maybe no one should be imprisoned for acts that cause no material injury and violate no one’s rights.
      It’s not as if Reason hasn’t consistently been opposed to harsh punishments for petty offenses for non-celebrities.

  2. >>>pleaded guilty to paying someone $15,000 to rig her daughter’s SAT scores

    coulda hoped for you on the jury. pled. and fuck her for the elitism.

    1. What, exactly, was her crime? I never understood what criminal activity she committed.

      CB

        1. Committed by the university.

          1. No, the university was the victim of the fraud.

            1. Their agent accepted the cash

              1. But he was not acting on their behalf.

      1. personally I think fraud is the other guy’s lack of due diligence but here it’s a crime so … bottom line was she pled – gave herself up.

        1. That’s sort of the Klingon view of it. “He should have armed himself.”
          Libertarians prefer the NAP.

          1. Klingon if I’m a party to the fraud here i’m just observing … bottom line *she pled* regardless if it was to a crime.

            I don’t know the NAP policy on literally offering your freedom to l’Etat.

  3. Sorry but spending 2 weeks in the can for trying to buy your brat’s way into an elite college at the expense of everyone else sounds about right to me.

    To use the case of this rich bitch as an example of harsh sentencing is an insult to the thousands of people who are doing literally decades in prison for selling drugs or possessing dirty pictures.

    1. You shouldn’t use the shitty and horrible treatment of one group of people to justify shitty and horrible treatment of an unrelated group of people.

      1. “You shouldn’t use the shitty and horrible treatment of one group of people to justify shitty and horrible treatment of an unrelated group of people except when one should because the unrelated group supplies immense funding to their chosen betters that make the laws in the 1st place.” FTFY

        FFS how many times do we here people say they don’t care about something simply because it does not affect them? Well, let the harsh realities penetrate the lives of the uncaring/indifferent, wealthy in this case, and see if they change their tune. Maybe they will dedicate their contributions to candidates that support criminal justice reform that lessens shitty and horrible treatment. Nothing like a little skin in the game to get selfish people to care about outcomes more.

    2. you’re about right on that.

  4. I don’t remember the exact charges and nobody is really discussing those.

    If she used the USPS and/or telecomm to do this, she committed mail/wire fraud. The US government sends people to prison for less and for longer times.

    These Lefties wants all these laws and then don’t want to be subject to them. Fuck her. She is now a criminal.

    1. She can get a second chance like all the other criminals who get one under our system.

      Maybe next time she will think twice about voting Democrat for the police state.

  5. What did the person who accepted the bribe get?

    1. the Stanford sailing coach got one day in jail for accepting 700K for the sailing team (none for himself)

  6. 2 weeks confinement for mail fraud isn’t “harsh”. She plead guilty to the charge. Her plea deal called for a month but her pussy pass priveledge cut it in half.

  7. SAT scores, baby I can improve it more
    15 grand, that you got bust on,
    You know it’s hard to believe

    FOURTEEN DAYS IT THE HOLE…

    1. Felicity should have gotten the full 30 days in the hole. Enjoy that humble pie, bitch.

  8. Point#1: If it wasn’t for excess degreeism, licensism, credentialism, and other Government-Almighty micro-management, I could scratch my own ass without having to see a Government-Almighty-licensed proctologist to get permission (“prescription”) to scratch MY OWN butthole, which belongs to ME!!! How about some attention to us having gotten enslaved to this crap in the first place?!?!!?

    Point#2: Felicity Huffman’s REAL offense (which the manspermed media won’t tell you about) was NOT about bribing college under-the-bridge trolls, it is REALLY that she BLEW ON A CHEAP PLASTIC FLUTE w/o the permission of a properly Government-Almighty-certified Doctor of Doctorology!!!!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  9. Real actual time in a jail/prison as a certain result of crime is a god thing for society. Lots of short term sentences instead of fines removes the rich-pay-poor-serve-time distinction.
    She can never again say she was not a crook. Just paying fines lets the elites pretend that actual crimes are like underpaying taxes by mistake.

    1. Being sentenced and serving time doesn’t mean you’re a crook. It just means you had a shitty alibi. Or a shitty lawyer. Or a crooked prosecutor withholding evidence.

      1. The only rebuttal I could think of is, “well, other countries are worse!”

  10. It’s not like she’s going to lose her 9 to 5 or shift job by spending that two weeks in jail. For her, those two weeks will go by like the blink of an eye and that’ll be that. Nothing lost except that small amount of time.

  11. Is the author suggesting in the middle paragraph that nonviolent criminals should not be served with jail time? That’s exactly what blundering Biden said at the last debate, and there’s a reason he was mocked for it.

    I’ve been a little disappointed in returning to Reason after a hiatus of five years or so. I don’t know if that’s a result of… Growing older? Talented writers leaving? Editor change? Trump? It’s like Stossel took over the whole paper. Where is the depth?

    Wondering if anyone who’s been around here a while feels the same and why.

    1. Reason has always been this way – perhaps you are one of the victims of the space-time wormhole who came to us from the alternate universe of good articles and intelligent comments.

      1. >>>good articles and intelligent comments

        low bar but always better than National Review.

    2. About two years ago a significant group of commenters got fed up and set up their own site to share stories and comments. Glibertarians is an echo chamber, unfortunately. But it’s clever.

    3. Growing older, most likely. Reason was a little better back when I started reading it in ’11-’12, but not much.

    4. Who would have thought that libertarians would oppose violence in response to a non-violent act?

      I’ve been commenting here for a stupidly long time. I think they (or at least some of the staff back then) would have made the same argument 5 years ago. Though I do agree they have declined in a number of ways.

      1. She’s going to jail for two weeks, not being flogged or having her hand cut off.

  12. I keep reading about these parents going to jail over college admission bribery scandals. What’s happening to the people taking the money?

  13. Her and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are each facing 40 years in prison—more than some serve for murder.

    Jesus!!?! All because she wanted her daughter to spend four years in a school learning things that aren’t true?

    1. Wasn’t her daughter a successful Instagram Influencer? Why on earth would you spend half a million dollars so she can get a “communications” degree or some such shit.

      1. No kidding. *She* and her husband . . . etc.

    2. The average sentence served for murder in the US is 22 years.

  14. The universities could eliminate the need for these frauds just by reserving some admission spots to be sold to the highest bidder.

    1. They endow chairs and pay for facilities like ‘lazy rivers’.

    2. No. People like Huffman don’t have many millions to spare, so they’d lose the bidding war Undercutting the rates is one of her real crimes, but not the main one.

      Her main crime was that the money went to individuals who don’t run a college.

  15. As for falsely reporting one’s address to the public school system, I wonder how many of them are pretending to live in a jurisdiction where they don’t pay taxes, and how many of them are simply pretending a different address within the same jurisdiction where they’re paying taxes.

    An Internet search found ads by private investigating companies which specialize in investigating parents to make sure they live where they claim to be – is this just a matter of making sure parents pay taxes in the jurisdiction where their kids are going to school, or forcing parents to bow to arbitrary district lines within the same jurisdiction?

    1. It’s both. The taxes in the school districts to which parents want to surreptitiously send their kids are generally higher than in the districts they flee, so they are seen as freeloaders by the district they’re attending. From the point of view of the district they live in, their state and federal funding depends on actual attendance numbers, so if a resident student is not showing up because they’re sneaking into a neighboring district, their home district is losing money.

  16. yeah, prison should be for people who are a danger to society. She should be forced to pay tuition for a dozen poor kids, and made to work as a teacher’s aide for a year or somesuch.

  17. “Folks who have endured worse punishments for lesser crimes are not helped by throwing the book at Huffman”

    THROWING THE BOOK at her? She didn’t even receive the minimum the government wanted, and that she deserved. How in the world can someone think that 14 days in jail is too much for bribery, fraud and whatever crime she committed?

    1. Any sentence that didn’t include jailtime would not be a punishment at all. She is a multimillionaire after all, so these fines might be unpleasant but they aren’t an active deterrent. Two weeks seems quite reasonable, all told.

  18. Putting people in cages is what we do best.

  19. Time for a contrarian view.

    The fact is, what Ms. Huffman did was wrong. Period. With her actions, she denied other children a place they would have earned through merit, and not outright bribery. I applaud her unconditional acceptance of responsibility, and teshuva. The fact remains, there has to be a consequence for this kind of action.

    I am looking forward to the day if seeing her do the ‘perp walk’ for the cameras as she reports for prison. Her term should have been longer: 90 days in LA County. That ‘perp walk’ is precisely what these people want to avoid. They cannot stand the thought of public humiliation. And this is precisely what must happen.

    This same thinking can be extended to Wall Street. Want to stop their horseshit? Start arresting the lace panty crown and make them do ‘perp walks’. Then they will change their behavior.

    More than anything, these entitled brats fear public humiliation. So make them face their fear, and feel the consequence of their actions.

    1. Exactly. Like Cersei in GoT. But repeat it weekly for a year.

    2. As I said above, the ultimate solution is to bring the bribery out in the open by openly offering some admittance spots to the highest bidder. It’s a win-win—the hipsters get their kids into the toney schools, and the bribe money goes directly to the school instead of to some craven middleman.

  20. Won’t lie, it is hilarious to see someone literally commit a crime violating the sanctity of the Sacred Market, and then Reason respond that they shouldn’t be punished at all because that’s too harsh. I mean, if you worship the Market, you’d think this would be the ultimate sin…

    1. Yes, the use of force or fraud is supposed to be where the line is.

    2. Good thing no one worships the market, then.
      All the market is is the choices and transactions that people choose to make. Nothing sacred or magical about it.

      1. The whole point of libertarians’ focus on markets is that markets don’t require intervention and protection. They self-regulate.
        You may disagree. I expect your probably do or you wouldn’t get the libertarian position so wrong.

  21. Of that 1.3 million, only 55 percent committed violent crimes. The rest are there for offenses—like drug convictions—where the offender likely poses no threat to the general public.

    The obsession for Reason to equate “non-violent” crimes with drug crimes is becoming tiresome.

    Bernie Maddoff is a non-violent criminal.

    Also how are shoplifters, burglars, car thieves, identity scammers, ransomware hackers, embezzlers, and fraudsters not a threat to the general public?

  22. 14 days is a drop in the bucket, so to speak.
    Being away from home for two weeks is barely an inconvenience, especially when the start date is negotiable with the judge.

    The part of justice that sets things right is still missing… her kid is still in the school for which she is unqualified, and having taken an admission slot from someone else. The kid might have been younger than 18 when faking the ACT test, but was an adult at the time of submitting the false data to the school (kids have to sign the application online attesting to the truth)

  23. Maybe no one should be imprisoned for acts that cause no material injury and violate no one’s rights.
    It’s not as if Reason hasn’t consistently been opposed to harsh punishments for petty offenses for non-celebrities.
    https://www.escortsadservice.com/

  24. Ms. Huffman supplied the money to bribe an office at a public university. AN EMPLOYEE OF THE STATE.

    You seriously believe that bribing a state official should not be punished with jail time for the briber and the bribee?

    Twits.

  25. “Kelley Williams-Bolar, who I wrote about in March after the college admissions scandal first broke. In 2011, the Ohio mom used her father’s address to ensure her kids received a better education in his superior school district. For that offense, she served nine days of a five-year prison sentence, completed 80 hours of community service, and received three years probation—a harsher punishment when considering her less severe crime.”

    What? Who says her offense was less severe than Felicity’s? And how can 9 days be harsher than 14 days?

  26. I don’t know law. Thank goodness.

    What a POS this mother is. She used her money to fake her daughters test scores. So she got into this university well f* you too S Cal for not doing your due diligence in admissions. You think you are doing this minnow a favor?

    I don’t know. Two weeks whatever. I am neither judge nor jury. What do you think you are raising here?? A rat ship. A vessel for rich mommy you tube channel brats.

    (My not so good Al Pacino)

    1. The real punishment for faking test scores will come when her not-so-bright daughter flunks out, and then probably doesn’t even start over at one the lower-level colleges that she was qualified for.

  27. This article is garbage. How do you even know what was considered in sentencing? You just took this as an example to help sensationalize an argument that you wanted to make; if that’s your aim then maybe use a more appropriate headline. Two weeks is nothing.

  28. 14 days isn’t too bad of a sentence, but we should look into different ways to punish wrongs/rehabilitate

    https://paintingoverlandpark.com/

  29. Where’s the Constitutional authority to monopolize education? Why should the govt. dictate, define, and force the people to pay for political indoctrination? Only because it is tolerated. NOT because it is moral or practical.
    It’s an unquestionable value you claim? Then why does it need to be forced? Can a value be ruined by forcing it?
    What if forcing children into a rigid conformity is harmful, abuse? What if some parent’s consciences are violated? Whose choice is it? The parent’s choice or a stranger’s? Are we free or not? What does that mean? If we are to be ruled, then we are not free, which begs the question, “Who will protect us from our protectors?” Can we grant control of our lives to others, then revoke it? Can we grant control to others in the name of others, make our decision to be ruled binding on others also? If we don’t want to be free, can we morally force our decision on others? By what right? By what logic?

  30. yea so lets first start with mercy for the rich and well-connected

Please to post comments