Is Felicity Huffman’s jail sentence fair?

“The 360” gives you diverse perspectives on the day’s top debates.

What’s happening:

On Friday, actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in jail for paying $15,000 to rig her daughter's SAT scores. She is the first parent to be sentenced in the massive college admissions scandal that has led to charges for dozens for members of wealthy and connected families.

Huffman pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and fraud as part of a deal with prosecutors in May. "I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong,” she said. She is also required to pay a $30,000 fine and do 250 hours of community service.

The amount she paid is far less than some of her alleged fellow schemers. Some parents are accused of paying as much as $500,000 and bribing coaches to say they were recruiting their children. A total of 51 people have been charged.

Why there’s debate:

News of Huffman’s sentencing sparked strong reaction from many who felt she got a lenient sentence because of her wealth and fame. Her case was compared to those of poor people of color who received much more substantial punishments for similar crimes. Huffman's sentence, some say, reveals the same inequities and racial disparities in higher education also exist within the justice system.

Others argue that her punishment was fair, or even too harsh, given the lack of a clear victim of her crime, the low likelihood she’d reoffend and her willing cooperation in the investigation. The way to create a more equitable justice system, some activists say, isn’t to give people like Huffman harsher sentences, but to be more forgiving to those who, though they may lack her resources, make similar mistakes. “Prisons and jails are not the answer to every bad thing everyone does,” singer John Legend said.

What’s next:

The fact that Huffman received jail time is seen by some legal experts as a bad sign for “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who is fighting charges that she and her husband paid $500,000 to have their daughters accepted to the University of Southern California as athletes. If found guilty, Loughlin “should expect a jail sentence that is several factors greater” than Huffman’s, a criminal defense attorney said. Her next scheduled court date is Oct. 2.


Huffman got a lesser sentence by accepting responsibility for her crime.

“...Huffman's conduct following the exposure of these crimes has exemplified grace, contrition, remorse and acceptance of responsibility. Instead of making endless excuses, trying to justify her behavior, and directing blame at others, she has owned her actions. That matters.”
— Joey Jackson, CNN

Her sentence shows how the wealthy and famous avoid proper punishment.

“There is no justice. Not when the rich and the powerful, the amoral and the sleazy — liars, cheats and unspeakably entitled thieves of anything and everything they can snatch with their paws from honorable folk — get away with it, time and again.” — Andrea Peyser, New York Post

The lenience shown Huffman should be applied to less notable people in similar positions.

“So yes, let’s talk about all the more vulnerable, less privileged women and men thrown behind bars for crimes far less egregious and offensive than Huffman’s — that is, after all, the more pressing story. But let’s also draw the right conclusion: That fairness means more sentences like the one Huffman received.” — Jill Filipovic, Vanity Fair

The prominence of her case blocked any chance she could avoid jail time.

“The reality is that Huffman was likely sentenced to 14 days in prison because of her fame, not in spite of it. This will have a negative impact on the run of the mill case, leading other first-time non-violent defendants to prison, when there is no need for it.” — David Oscar Markus, The Hill

A longer jail sentence for Huffman won’t do anything to fix the problem of mass incarceration.

“Punishment isn’t zero sum. No one is served by Felicity Huffman serving two weeks in prison. No one would be served if she spent 20 years in prison. There are different ways to think about how people can make amends for wrongdoing. There are different ways to conceive of justice.” — Criminal justice expert Clint Smith

Huffman was a small player in a massive corruption scheme.

“Felicity Huffman is guilty, and now she faces two weeks in prison. But the colleges that she was exploiting are guilty, too. They have been for years — and they’ve never been charged.”
— Christina Tucker, NBC News

Huffman’s willingness to be the public face of the scandal was rewarded.

“Huffman took the first plea deal offered, pleading guilty and issuing a public statement of comprehensive contrition. The feds wanted to make an example of her, and she let them, sending a national signal to any other spoiled millionaires that they, too, would be humiliated and disciplined if met with the full force of the law.” — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: AP