Homeless Mum Given Five Years In Prison For Using Friend’s Address To Enrol Son In School

by : Lucy Connolly on : 16 Sep 2019 17:39
Tanya McDowell felicity huffman Tanya McDowell felicity huffman AP/PA

The recent sentencing of Felicity Huffman to 14 days in prison for her role in the college admissions scandal has shed light on other cases of parents who faced longer sentences for less serious offences.


In particular, Tanya McDowell, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, a homeless woman who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2011 for enrolling her son in a school district where he did not live.

The mother, who was living with her son Andrew out of their van and a range of different homeless shelters, wanted a better education for then 5-year-old Andrew and so used her babysitter’s address to enrol him in a school in the neighbouring town of Norwalk.

Tanya McDowell Tanya McDowell AP

The Connecticut Post reported that despite her sentencing, the mother vowed to continue fighting for a better education for her young son.


Addressing the courtroom at the time, McDowell said:

Who would have thought that wanting a good education for my son would put me in this predicament? I have no regrets seeking a better education for him.

The mother, who was 34 at the time of her sentencing, pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree larceny (a theft involving property or services valued at more than $20,000) and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny for illegally enrolling her son in Norwalk public school despite not living there.

The sentencing was part of a plea deal McDowell struck with prosecutors after the mother was charged with selling drugs to an undercover police officer on two separate occasions.

Norwalk courthouseNorwalk courthouseWikimedia

The sentence she received for the drug charges ran concurrently with the five-year sentence she received for the Norwalk school case. Still, the severe punishment the mother received for attempting to get her son a better education was completely disproportionate to her actions.

As such, her imprisonment sparked outrage among the community, with many now pointing out the stark differences between the treatment of McDowell – a homeless, black woman – and that of Felicity Huffman – a rich, white woman.

As per The Telegraph, Huffman was sentenced to just 14 days in prison on Friday (September 13) for paying for someone to cheat on her daughter’s university entrance exam.


The actor admitted earlier this year to paying $15,000 (approximately £12,000) to have an invigilator correct daughter Sophia’s answers on the exam, with officials saying the result was 400 points higher than an earlier practice test.

Felicity HuffmanFelicity HuffmanPA

Huffman’s light sentencing, in comparison to that of McDowell’s, has led critics to draw comparisons between the two – with critics arguing it proves the criminal justice system is ruled by white privilege.

However, it does have to be noted that had McDowell not taken the plea deal, she faced a much lengthier prison sentence as a result of her drugs charges.

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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: News, Class System, Crime, Education, Felicity Huffman, Film and TV, Homelessness, US News


Connecticut Post and 1 other
  1. Connecticut Post

    Tanya McDowell sentenced to 5 years in prison

  2. The Telegraph

    Actress Felicity Huffman sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying official to cheat on daughter's university exam