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Homeless Mom Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Using Friend's Address to Enroll Son in School

People logo People 9/15/2019 Claudia Harmata
a group of people posing for the camera © The Stamford Advocate, Keelin Daly/AP

Felicity Huffman‘s 14-day sentencing has spotlighted school-related cases of parents who received longer jail time in comparison to the actress’ role in the college admissions scandal.

A homeless woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was sentenced to five years in prison for enrolling her son in a school district where he did not reside.

In 2011, Tanya McDowell wanted a better education for her then 5-year-old son Andrew, and enrolled him in an elementary school in the neighboring town of Norwalk — using her son’s babysitter’s address for registration papers. At the time, she and her son were living out of her van and homeless shelters, and spending nights at an apartment in Bridgeport, the Connecticut Post had reported.

The mother was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny and sentenced to five years behind bars for the “stolen” education, confirmed with PEOPLE by the Newark Courthouse Chief Clerk’s Office.

“Who would have thought that wanting a good education for my son would put me in this predicament?” McDowell, who was also facing drug charges that she later served time for, said in court at the time of her sentencing. “I have no regrets seeking a better education for him, I do regret my participation in this drug case.”

RELATED: John Legend Reacts to Felicity Huffman’s 14-Day Sentence: ‘Prisons and Jails Are Not the Answer’

On Friday, actress Huffman was sentenced to 14 days behind bars for her role in the college admissions scandal, which included paying $15,000 to admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer and his nonprofit organization, Key Worldwide Foundation (“KWF”), who then facilitated cheating on Huffman’s daughter’s SAT test by having a proctor correct the teen’s answers after the fact.

a woman looking at the camera: Jim Michaud/Getty Images © Jim Michaud/Getty Images Jim Michaud/Getty Images

Critics pointed out the stark contrast in the consequences between these two cases, arguing that it exemplified a disparity that continues to put underprivileged communities at a disadvantage.

Similarly, in 2011, Ohio mom Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in county jail and was convicted of lying about her home address to get her daughters into a different school district. Williams-Bolar refused when officials asked her to pay $30,000 in back tuition, and she was convicted of falsifying residency records.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that a new study showed white school districts received $23 billion more in government funding than nonwhite school districts in 2016, regardless of the fact that they had the same number of students.

RELATED: Felicity Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days Behind Bars in College Admissions Scam

Thus many parents, like McDowell and Williams-Bolar, find themselves using the addresses of friends and family to get their children into better school districts.

“While there is a part of us that may feel some sense of vindication at the idea of these parents serving five years in prison because Tanya McDowell served five years in prison when she was so much more deserving, that’s not justice,” Rebecca J. Kavanagh, a New York City public defender, told Refinery29 of the college admissions scandal verdicts. “Justice is for Tanya McDowell to have never been charged, convicted or sentenced to prison and to have the same educational opportunity for her son as these parents have for their children.”

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Singer John Legend shed light on McDowell’s case in his reaction to Huffman’s sentencing.

“I get why everyone gets mad when rich person X gets a short sentence and poor person of color Y gets a long one,” the singer wrote on Twitter. “The answer isn’t for X to get more; it’s for both of them to get less (or even none!!!) We should level down not up.”

“It’s insane we locked a woman up for 5 years for sending her kid to the wrong school district,” the father of two wrote, referencing McDowell. “Literally everyone involved in that decision should be ashamed of themselves.”

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“It’s unconscionable that we locked a woman up for voting when, unbeknownst to her, she was ineligible,” Legend continued, referring to Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting in the 2016 election even though she says she was unaware that she was ineligible to vote, according to the Huffington Post.

The Voice star concluded, “And no one in our nation will benefit from the 14 days an actress will serve for cheating in college admissions. We don’t need to lock people up for any of this stuff.”

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