A Harsher Sentence for Brock Turner Will Not Bring Justice

Nineteen-year-old Brock Turner received a six-month jail sentence for raping an unconscious woman. Her heartrending impact statement drew national attention to the case, stoking outrage at the judge’s use of discretion in handing down such a light sentence.

The uproar is well-founded. It is natural and necessary to wonder: in this era of the mass incarceration of black and brown men and women, many of whom remain locked up for crimes far less grave than Turner’s, why was this young man offered such leniency?

Why did the judge invoke the negative impact that prison would have on this kid’s life, when we so cavalierly lock up poor people of color and throw away the key? Doesn’t this case embody so much of what is wrong with our society, from gross racial inequities to the constant violation of and violence against women’s bodies? Shouldn’t this kid be put away for a long time, just as he surely would be were he not a white Stanford swimmer with Olympic aspirations?

Here’s what I know: Yes, this case represents one way in which a culture of sexual violence persists. Yes, our criminal justice system often perpetuates structural racism and patriarchy, and this case is but one example among many of that fact. And if we believe that the criminal justice system exists primarily to punish those who commit crimes, then perhaps, yes, this kid should get locked up for a long time, just as he likely would if he were born with different skin. 

Brock Turner received a six-month jail sentence because the judge considered the severe negative impact that prison would have on his life. And guess what? He’s right. Prison would have a severe impact on this guy’s life because jail and prison have a severe negative impact on everyone.

Locking people in cells does not right their wrongs or make us a safer or healthier society. Still, in the majority of cases, there is little or no consideration given to the negative impact incarceration will have on the defendant, or on his or her family and community. The truth is that Brock Turner did have so much to lose because he had so much: his whiteness afforded him privileges and comforts that his black and brown counterparts, especially those in poor communities, may never know.

Herein lies the outrageousness of this sentence: it is proof that we invest in and value white lives more than others. The judge saw the potential return on society’s investment in this kid and was unwilling to throw it all away.

I’d like to think the criminal justice system was meant for more than punishment. Unfortunately, incarceration has come to be a proxy for justice in this country; it’s our default response to crime and one of the only tools in our toolbox. We take for granted the utility of incarceration in righting wrongs and satisfying the needs of crime victims because we don’t know another way.

But a long prison sentence will not undo the profound harm done to this woman that night, the scars of which she will bear forever. And while advocating for a tough sentence seems like the reasonable response to many who are rightfully outraged—because after all, the woman he raped has lived in her own version of prison since the night he raped her—we should be having a different conversation. We should be interrogating what we mean when we say “justice.” We should be figuring out a new response to people who do serious harm to others, one that is grounded in repairing that harm.

Such responses already exist and have proven to be effective, such as the Common Justice program at the Vera Institute of Justice, a grantee of the Open Society Foundations. Common Justice diverts violent felony cases into a restorative dialogue process in which all interested parties come together to identify the needs and interests of those harmed and develop appropriate measures for holding responsible individuals accountable. We need more programs like this.

We cannot in good conscience call for the end of mass incarceration while simultaneously advocating for a harsher sentence for Brock Turner, especially when we know that the majority of people in American prisons are serving time for violent offenses and that the excessively long sentences they receive are counterproductive and inhumane. Perhaps the problem on which we should collectively focus is not the judge’s sentence but rather that his “leniency” is such an exception to the rule.

We are outraged by this case, and we should be. But I invite us all to channel our anger not towards seeking vengeance, but towards forging a new notion of justice for our society, a new set of tools for addressing violence through nonviolent means. To do so, we have to listen to crime survivors and figure out what we can do to make them whole.

In this case, the victim explicitly stated, “I do not want Brock to rot away in prison. … What I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing.”

We need to get to the bottom of what allows sexual violence to run rampant, and for those who perpetrate it to come face to face with the impact they have had. We must assess the damage that incarceration does to those who bear the brunt of it, most of whom don’t look like Brock Turner. We must honor the woman in this case, and the countless others she represents, by heeding her words and “trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering.”

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As someone who has personally been a victim of rape and molestation, I do not agree with this article. Yes, of course a longer sentence won't fix the "bigger problem," but I know, because I am a victim, that in our justice system when the prepatrator of your assault is punished it validates you. We have a society that says to women post-trauma "Not only are you going to have to deal with psychological and emotional trauma (and we don't care much about that), but we will also stand by the man who comitted an act of violence against you and very likely will against other individuals, because he got away with this." So it is simply not true that desire to change the non-punitive sentence is unhelpful in the long run. It helps the person who matters most here, and that is the victim and her family. Now, I agree that the minimalistic sentence Turner received does have to do with him being white, a wealthy Standford student, and an individual with an up-and-coming athletic career. However, saying that we need to sit down and have a pow wow to address the bigger problem simply isn't realistic. To do that individual mindsets of people in power would need to be addressed. This would cause laws already put in place to actually be obeyed, or that would be the hope. But people don't want to listen. Most people feel the way they do about these issues. The very least a more severe sentence could do for this nationally publicized case is make other possible perpetrators more wary and show America that this IS a serious crime. It IS a crime, not just boys being boys, or men having needs and a lack of self control. And this case simply isn't about race. It is about a woman who was attacked. Yes, race plays a large if not vital role in the case's outcome, but that is simply not the point. I will live the rest of my life knowing nothing will ever happen to the man who molested me for two years. I will forever be traumatized and have recurrent flashbacks of him, the ways he manipulated and groomed me so I could be a benefactor in my own abuse. Turner's case may not be the same, but it is still atrocious. Nothing justifies this kind of violence. A longer sentence, a more severe punishment, an outcome that tells people "this is NEVER NEVER NEVER OK" is the least, the very least our justice system could provide.

I totally agree with Jordy...and, of course, it is not just sexual ab"use" that needs to be punished. Emotional acts of terrorism (emotional child ab"use") also need to be punished-after all, if "mother" calls you names, tells you you are useless, fat etc, that leaves more than enough trauma to destroy the rest of your existence.So, prison may not "do" anything "for" the perpetrator...but it sure does for the victim.

This is a very cogent and thoughtful response to the essay. It truly sickens me that in this day and age, people still undermine women every step of the way. And white people still seem blind to their own privilege ('complexion protection')... I would sentence this horrible boy to a whole bunch of supervised mandatory community service.. several years of it. That way, some good could be done, he might learn some empathy, and it would be less costly that long-term incarceration.

I agree with Hillary's statement and want to add the mentioned program in the essay of face to face confrontation of assailant and victim as well as a financial compensation of the victim by the assailant (or his well-to-do parents).

Our militarist, consumer-driven, prison-happy society does not have an equality for all system of justice, as Ms. Baker highlights. The kid glove treatment for Turner is not just about white privilege, it is also about the oppression of non-whites and the poor. It is not just Turner and his parents and his school and the judge who failed: it is ALL of us. Our society itself has failed when justice is color-coded and draconian and unfair. It is US who must hold ourselves accountable for this terrible and not rare crime, as we should hold ourselves accountable for invading and destroying entire countries. Many so-called hunter gatherer societies recognized that it was the group that failed, as much if not more so than the individual, and this is true in the Turner case and millions of other cases. The responsible social position is well-articulated by Ms. Baker. Rehabilitation, not the dungeon is the best path forward out of this mess. For those who call for more prison for Turner, I challenge you to call for abolition of the American Prison Complex; and to advocate for the end of solitary confinement and state-sanctioned torture. And to extend the same caringness tendered to Turner's victim to the billions of third world women whose daily life is made a misery through the "normal" workings of imperialism and sexual slavery.

Most women I know have been sexually abused to some extent. I was groped by two men who ran a camp in Quebec. When I told my father, he drove away. I was thirteen and ugly that time, but at least I was female. Later abuse was much worse. I painted a picture of girls of all colors, (being a white southerner who later would be in the civil rights movement there), but now I'd paint a different picture because boys and even men are sexually abused as well. One I know was abused by a woman neighbor. He found a letter she'd sent to his parents. He tore it up and told her if she didn't stop he'd tell her husband and the police.

I agree entirely with "....jail and prison have a severe negative impact on everyone" and "...exceedingly long sentences they receive receive are counter productive and inhumane". I also agree with the statement "..I dont want Brock to rot away in prison......."
All I want to say that given the above statements, let everybody in similar situations be given similar considerartions, so as to let nobody to rot away in prison.
Common justice program is a good program. I am sure people would understand and embrace it, considering the fact that it addresses the root cause of the problem. Sensitization of this program should be done at various levels in communities including the judiciary and law enforcers.

I fully agree with the line of this OSF statement. That doesn't mean - as Jordy seems to think - that I say that rape is not a mayor crime. Of course it should be punished, but giving very long jail sentences does not make the US safer or a better society.
For us in Europe the mass incarnation of people in the US is something very difficult to understand as it is dehumanizing society as a whole.
Surely racism and victimizing the poor - who can not pay for an expensive defense lawyer - plays a big role in this system of non-justice.
I understand that Jordy, as a victim, wants revenge, but OSF is right to look further than that and hat they plea for a more just justice system.

It, long prison sentences, is not just a black thing or only a person of color issue. It is a poor white thing as well. SES and the Incarceration of poor whites occurs without justice being served. Poor whites cannot afford legal representation. They too a locked up and the key is thrown away.

Thank you, Jordy, for reading this piece, and for sharing your experience and your perspective on this very difficult case. I couldn't agree more that like you said, "nothing justifies this kind of violence", and that changing the culture around these very charged issues seems almost impossible. As we move forward, I hope that we keep voices like your own at the center of the conversation on how the justice system can serve survivors of violence.

Jordy, I first commiserate with you and applaud your courage to post. As a sexual assault victim myself, I agree our initial desire is vengeance in the form of punishment. Howbeit, what the article never really speaks to is the "type" of punishment our (the U.S.) criminal justice system doesn't just render "punishment" as defined by Webster. No, our form of punishment in the States takes on a whole different beast and one in which we are only now beginning to take seriously. When I hear of stories like Khalief Browder, I weep. Somewhere jails and prisons became heinous sanctuaries of violence NOT rehabilitation systems. When we were children, our parents removed sweets if we didn't finish our veggies. They kept us from the football games if we didn't clean our rooms. They removed our pleasures such that we'd understand the consequences of our actions, so that we'd regret, ponder and learn. Now as adults, we recognize (well most of us), that if we don't do things or conduct ourselves a certain way, there are consequences for our choices and from these life lesson we are able to progress and grow. Our criminal justice system is not by any means a place to regret, ponder or learn. These places are not places where underprivileged black and brown brothas and sistas progress and grow (rehabilitation), let alone learn a better way. No, instead 22-yr Browder is beaten, ignored and learns first hand how to take his own life. He unfortunately is eventually successful. This Jordy is what I believe is the author's focus. Our criminal justice system is filthy and messy and putrid. In the author's defense it is extremely difficult to cover the myriad, multi-layered stratosphere that is our prison-industrial complex. You are very correct. Individuals like Turner deserve punishment, a whole hell of a lot more than his judgement. Unfortunately, the harsh truth is that his life is valued more than the Khalief Browder, the Michael Brown, the Sandra Bland, the Angola 3. But our criminal justice system does not offer punishment in terms of rehabilitation, it hasn't for quite sometime. It is a run of the mill slavery system capatilizing on black and brown bodies, for profits you nor I nor the other 99% of the world will see. It is fueled by exploitation and turns a blind eye to the continuation and proliferation of verbal, mental, sexual, physical and other abuses that unless you've ever been behind bars, we can only dream of their atrocities. Bottom line, until we are able to communicate freely and with all integrity about what is really going on in our prisons, until our government shuts down these monopolizing modern-day slave trades...we will continue to be at odds on the very definition of punishment, let alone rehabilituon.

This is in response to Jordy's comment: Many female victims of Stephen j. Czuleger's judgments have expressed their disbelief of this biased sexist judge online, their comments were quickly deleted. To be a female and to be convicted of an attempt to conspire to commit a drug offence, i. e. a crime that does not have any man's rea or intent, is equal to be raped by judge czuleger and suffer life long consequences only as a result of being a female and immigrant. This article addresses this issue. Thank you.

Why is every story turned into race? There are poor whites in this country too. Yes, this man didn't get what was coming to him. The judge was wrong but don't say it was because of his skin color .
The poor blacks that live in terrible living conditions you can blame it on the Democrats that have been in control of their cities politics for over 50 yrs. Blacks are held down so you are enslaved to the Democratic Party. They want you for that reason only. Do your own investigation and see they are for the powerful teachers union and look at the schools. It's all about " you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. They want the power and heck with everyone else. Do your own thinking. Let them know you have a mind of your own. Most people don't care. They can't tell you whom the. Vice president Is. They are like sheep and follow the leader. They threaten to take you food stamps way if you don't do as they tell you to do. Be better than that. Empower your brain and control your own life

Author's circular hipocracy that shields the impunity of his RAPE is humorous. full of it!!!

He didn't have Olympic aspirations, he was a good swimmer, but no where near good enough to make the Olympic team. This small detail has been repeated in news coverage and commentary because it seems to add to the narrative of white privilege. But it's simply not true, and it undermines the work being done to promote diversity in the sport.

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