OKLAHOMA CITY – The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that it will ask an Oklahoma court to review the case of a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for failing to report the abuse of her children by her boyfriend, who received only two years behind bars for the abuse.
Brady Henderson, the legal director for the ACLU's Oklahoma chapter, said the group plans to file a lawsuit that will challenge what it believes was a disproportionate sentence given to Tondalao Hall, who said her boyfriend was also abusing her.
Hall, 33, was sentenced to prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to failing to protect two of her children. The boyfriend, 35-year-old Robert Braxton Jr., pleaded guilty to abusing the children and was released on probation having been given credit for the two years he had already spent in jail.
"You cannot sentence one of an abuser's victims to 30 years in prison for failure to stop his crime, particularly when that abuser walks free the day he pleads," Henderson said. "That creates an incredible injustice."
While living with Braxton, Hall's young children suffered broken bones but no evidence ever indicated that Hall committed any violence or harmed her children, ACLU officials said.
The case has outraged women's rights groups and brought further attention to Oklahoma's high rate of incarceration, particularly of women.
Oklahoma's overall incarceration rate is the second-highest in the nation. It has the highest female incarceration rate, locking up women at a rate that is two-and-a-half times the national average.
"This is not how we protect survivors of abuse," said Candace Liger, a community organizer with the ACLU. "Tandalao Hall is one of the many women spending time behind bars for the crime of her abuser."
Women's activist Sarah Adams-Cornell said the plight of Hall, who is black, demonstrates how racial and gender bias and a lack of understanding of domestic violence issues "continues to silence and criminalize women who are being abused."
Henderson said the ACLU will challenge the constitutionality of Hall's sentence and attempt to force Oklahoma's court system to consider whether sentences under the state's failure-to-protect statute fit the crime. Her previous appeals and a request for clemency were denied.
"Tandalao's case hits on many points of what's wrong in our state," he said. "What this court case is all about is trying to force the courts to see Tandalao as a person."