Jaime and Gladys Scott walked out of prison (in Mississippi) last week, 16 years after they first entered. Their double-life sentences were criticized as indicative of the egregious sentencing in our criminal justice system, and their release by Governor Haley Barbour was hailed as a long-overdue victory for justice, as well as an example of a governor using his commutation powers to right a wrong.
“I have no doubt that the reason the governor let them out is that this is a grave injustice,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who advocated strongly on the sisters’ behalf. “We need more days like this in Mississippi. We need more days like this in this country.”
The sisters’ release marks the end of a grassroots campaign led by a coalition of concerned individuals and groups, including the sisters’ family, Evelyn Rasco and Nancy Lockhart, their attorney Chokwe Lumumba, the national NAACP, the Mississippi NAACP State Conference and other organizations. Supporters from around the country brought attention to the sisters’ imprisonment and petitioned Governor Barbour for their freedom.
“This is a result of all of the individuals across this state and across the country who saw injustice in what was taking place and gave voice to it,” said Mississippi NAACP State Conference President Derrick Johnson. “This is a great day to let us know that if we stick together, work together, we can make mighty things happen.”
Jamie and Gladys were each condemned as teenagers for a first-time offense in which no one was hurt and court records maintain that little more than $10 was stolen. The sisters were convicted of luring two men to be robbed by three teenage boys. The boys each received eight years and served less than three.
The sisters’ case has become increasingly tragic and urgent over the years. While in prison, Jamie lost use of both her kidneys.
“They have served more time than they should have served,” Lumumba said.
After leaving prison, the sisters returned to Pensacola, Florida, where their mother and children live. Jamie has three children, ages 23, 20 and 17, and two grandchildren, ages five and three. Gladys has two children, ages 22 and 15 and two grandchildren, ages seven and four.
Jealous said that the NAACP will continue to ensure that the sisters receive the best medical care available, and Lumumba said that he would help the sisters seek a full pardon.
“Our next step is to ensure that the sisters get the health care that they need, and ultimately, the full pardon they deserve,” said Jealous.
According to Jealous, the sisters’ release speaks to the urgent need for the work the NAACP and their allies are doing to encourage governors to use their clemency powers to advance justice. He says that for more than a century the NAACP has pushed governors and presidents publicly and privately to use their clemency powers to advance justice.
“The case of the Scott sisters gives hope to others who are unjustly imprisoned,” said Jealous. “During the past few weeks, two governors released Black Americans who had been railroaded by our nation’s criminal justice system. One week before the Scott sisters were released, New York Governor David Paterson commuted the sentence of John White, a man who was defending his family. We hope that this trend continues in other cases, such as the case of John McNeil, a Georgia man who was given a life sentence for defending his home.”
(Ed. Note: News reports have stated that one of the conditions under which the sisters were released by Governor Barbour is that the younger sister donate one of her kidneys to the older one who is on dialysis. Questions on the ethics of this have been raised by some.)