For the 23rd year in a row, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County held the Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day. URCAD allows hundreds of students to showcase their work in topics that they are passionate about or that they find interesting and wish to further explore. Samiksha Manjani, a senior political science and psychology major, presented her research on the disproportionate incarceration of sex offenders.
In order to create her project, “The Injustice of Inequitable Sentencing of Sex Offenders,” Manjani collaborated with political science professor Dr. Jeffrey Davis, and the two worked together to create an analysis of incarceration rates and how disciplinary action is taken towards sex offenders. More specifically, their research compared the inconsistent sentencing given to sex offenders of different races who were convicted of the same crime.
According to “The Sentencing Project,” a non-profit organization advocating for criminal justice reform, approximately two-thirds of the 750,000 total Americans who are registered sex offenders, are white men. Despite this, the rate for black men who are registered is twice that of whites. This disparity could be due to a number of reasons, such as racial bias and preconceptions.
Manjani’s project was inspired by the 2016 case, “People v. Brock Turner,” where Turner raped an unconscious woman at Stanford University. Turner was indicted and found guilty for three felony sexual assault charges, which hold a statutory minimum sentence of two to three years incarceration. Nevertheless, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to just six months of confinement in jail, and Turner was released after serving three months.
“Seeing that case was disheartening for a lot of survivors. How can somebody serve two percent of what they could have gotten, you know?” Manjani explains. “I wanted to see how often this is happening, who is getting this privilege and who is going away for 15 years … it just expanded to where over time I just got really deep into the material.”
Manjani’s research compares Turner’s modest sentencing to that of Cory Batey, a black football player at Vanderbilt University who was also convicted of raping an unconscious woman. The difference in these cases is that Batey was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the minimum sentence for statutory rape in his state of Tennessee, as opposed to Turner’s six months. This observation raised the question of why these two men who were found guilty of the same crime were given such different sentences.
For the project, Manjani created a Restorative Justice Model, which is a model of an alternative disciplinary approach for sex offenders. The way that sex offenders are currently disciplined, according to Manjani, makes it difficult for them to reintegrate into society. Since they are placed on a sex offender list indefinitely, it is difficult for them to obtain employment and create personal relationships; this, in turn, influences them to commit crimes, and they go back into the system. However, with a Restorative Justice Model, the crime is seen as a wrong against the individual, rather than the state. The model requires the offender to acknowledge the harm and hurt that they have caused to the individual and identify the action necessary to restore and prevent the issue from recurring. This has proven successful in the past, such as with a 2007 model called “Project RESTORE,” which had an 80 percent completion rate.
URCAD continues to encourage creativity and critical thinking outside of the classroom. Like Manjani, UMBC students are given a platform to expose ideas and research that is passionate to them to a broader audience. “Whenever you work on a project really hard obviously you’re proud of it [and] you want to show it to people,” said Manjani. “I’m still shocked today to see how many people are interested in this. It’s been a really great process for me.”