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Mississippi Governor Grants Early Release to Scott Sisters

In a recent resolution to a celebrated Mississippi civil rights case, in which sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott each served 16 years of a life sentence for their part in a 1993 armed robbery that netted as little as $11, both were freed on January 7, 2011. Their release, however, was contingent on Gladys Scott donating one of her kidneys to her sister, Jamie, who suffers from renal failure. Gladys had already agreed to the donation.

According to Governor Haley Barbour, “The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes that the sisters no longer pose a threat to society. Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety and rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition ... creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi.”

Appearing with Governor Barbour, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous praised the decision, stating, “This is a shining example of how governors should use their commutation powers.” Jealous and the Mississippi NAACP had been working for most of the past year to win the Scotts’ release, and NAACP members had signed petitions urging the governor to take action.

The sisters’ armed robbery convictions stemmed from an incident in which they led two men to a secluded area where three teenagers attacked and robbed them of $11-$200. The teens received lesser sentences and have already been released from prison. Supporters of the Scotts have maintained that their punishment was disproportionately harsh because the sisters are black. Had Governor Barbour not commuted their sentences, they would not have been eligible for parole until 2014.

While some may see the commutation of the sisters’ life sentences to be an act of grace by the governor, consider that his reasoning was purely economical – Jamie’s dialysis treatment was costing the state around $190,000 a year. Also consider that inadequate medical care by prison staff may have led to Jamie’s kidney failure in the first place. “The prison contributed to everything that has happened to Jamie’s health. They could have prevented [her] kidney failure,” said Evelyn Rasco, the Scott sisters’ mother.

Governor Barbour has reportedly asked Mississippi DOC director Christopher Epps to investigate whether other prisoners who are receiving dialysis can be safely freed.

There was a delay following the Scotts’ release before the kidney donation could be performed, as both the sisters first had to lose weight. Gladys was also ordered to stop smoking cigarettes. Gladys and Jamie are still seeking a full pardon from Governor Barbour, based on their long-standing claims of innocence. The governor has indicated he will not grant a pardon.

Regardless, Jamie has said she wants to use the attention in her case to help others who remain incarcerated. “There’s a lot of Scott sisters sitting in prison right now,” she noted.

Sources: Washington Post, CNN, USA Today,

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