After 15 years of being behind bars, Cyntonia Brown was released from prison Wednesday morning. Brown was sentenced to 51 years in prison after killing a man she was forced to have sexual relations with, in exchange for money. Brown was coerced into prostitution at the age of 16. Her case reflects how flawed the criminal justice system is when it comes to young people of color who are victims of traumatic experiences. Through the failure of delving into the psychological impact of trauma that results in crimes committed, stigmatization of runways, and victimizing male abusers the system exposes its defects.
In this particular case, Brown’s psychological wellbeing and traumatic experiences were sadly overlooked when it came to sentencing. She was repeatedly raped, beaten, and manipulated by her pimp named Kut-Throat. Any human being would be negatively impacted by living in such conditions. The criminal justice system fails to see that young people of color can be motivated by mental illness or trauma, this is often the narrative of defense for young white people who commit heinous crimes. For instance, Brock Turner was sentenced to a mere 6 months for raping an unconscious woman on his college campus. Young people of color are simply criminalized as if wrongdoing is a part of their nature.
It is never taken into account what runways are running from. Runways are often stigmatized as being unstable bad kids that can’t keep it together. Children who are constantly running away are emotionally damaged and most likely victims of abuse. Prison should not be the only option for punishment, but intense psychological evaluation and therapy to assess the cause of the behavior should be important. More lenient sentences are given to children who typically come from “good homes” in the attempt to save their character to avoid issues in adulthood. The narrative of runaway children needs to be changed from disposable delinquent to the victim.
The victimization of male abusers fails to provide justice for the abused. When looking at the bigger picture, Brown was forced to have sexual relations with a man twice her senior which is sickening. Circling back to the Turner case, what would be the result of the outcome if the male was on trial for engaging in sexual acts with a minor? If he appeared to live a “successful” life, that would be taken into consideration in regards to sentencing.
In order to avoid the harsh unfair sentences of young people of color, the full picture needs to be considered. It is easy to punish those for crimes, but society would more so benefit if the criminal justice system delved into reasons why crimes are committed by certain groups. Stigmatizing children based on their home lives allows potentially sadistic individuals to walk free and commit the same crimes in adulthood, while others rot in prison for circumstantial situations.