No offense to the NAACP’s Ben Jealous, but I think I’ll withhold my praise of Haley Barbour until he actually does something that promotes racial and actual justice when not under the Klieg lights for his own ignorant past statements on race.
Jealous was singing Barbour’s praises Thursday for commuting the sentences of two sisters in their 30s, who were serving — wait for it — double life sentences for allegedly luring a pair of men into an armed robbery in which a grand total of $11 was stolen. Did I mention this conviction happened in Mississippi? The place where Haley said the civil rights era in his hometown of Yazoo City “wasn’t all that bad” (just ask Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney) in part because of the good order and discipline laid down by the White Citizens Councils … and where there was no hospital in Yazoo City where blacks could get treatment? Yeah. THAT Mississippi.
So is it any wonder Barbour — who wants to be president, and not just of the Confederate states — decided to finally make good on a 6-year-old request to release the two women from prison? Oh, and Haley set a condition. You knew there had to be a condition.
From the Washington Post:
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) announced late Wednesday that he will grant an early release from prison to two sisters serving unusually long sentences for armed robbery.
Gladys and Jamie Scott have each served 16 years of a life sentence. Their case had become a cause celebre among civil rights groups, including the NAACP, which mounted a national campaign to free the women.
The Scotts were convicted in 1994 for an armed robbery in which they led two men into an ambush. The men were robbed of $11, and their supporters contend that the Scotts, who are black, received extraordinary punishment for the crime.
Barbour said he decided to suspend the sentences in light of the poor health of 38-year-old Jamie Scott, who requires regular dialysis. The governor asserted that 36-year-old Gladys Scott’s release is contingent on her giving a kidney to her inmate sibling.
“The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society,” Barbour said in a statement. “Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi.”
So to review, Gladys Scott can get out, for the price of one kidney. Can we all sing a round of “I Wish I Was in Dixie,” now?
More on the case, from CNN:
Each of the Scott sisters got two life sentences after they were convicted by a jury of robbing two people near the town of Forest.
Although they would be eligible for parole in 2014, the Department of Corrections “believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society” and their incarceration is no longer necessary for rehabilitation, Barbour said in a statement.
Jamie Scott’s kidney dialysis treatment creates a substantial cost to the state, said Barbour.
Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps, who agreed with the decision to suspend the sentences, said Jamie Scott’s three-times-a-week dialysis costs the state about $190,000 a year.
The Scotts’ attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said Gladys Scott previously offered to make the kidney donation.
The announcement pleased the NAACP and other civil rights advocates, who have pressed for the sisters’ release in rallies and at other forums.
“We need more days like this in Mississippi,” NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said at a news conference Thursday at the State Capitol building in Jackson. “We need more days like this in our country.”
Jealous said he hoped Barbour’s decision served notice to governors in other states where incarcerations are being challenged “that they have a big role to play in advancing justice.”
Really, Ben? Really? You think Barbour deserves such praise? After that whole Shirley Sherrod debacle, I’d have hoped the NAACP chief would be more judicious with his outpourings. Sadly, not. Thankfully, the womens’ attorney was more circumspect:
Lumumba praised the decision but said he believed it was the medical situation that brought the sisters’ story to the media’s attention, rather than the injustice of their conviction. He said he hoped this case would bring further attention to “the story of a lot our people who are in jail who ought not be.”
“It was bad when they were convicted in the first place,” the attorney said of the Scotts. “It was bad when they were sentenced to two life terms (for a crime) for which most people wouldn’t serve a day in jail for.”
Lumumba said that while he believes Barbour suspended the sentences “for political reasons,” he said the act nonetheless “bespoke a sense of humanity” and thanked him for doing it.
And as for the crime itself:
Lumumba contends the sisters were not involved in the robbery and that there were discrepancies in testimony. The convictions and sentences were upheld in 1996 by the Mississippi Court of Appeals.
In 1993, Gladys and Jamie Scott were arrested and charged with leading two men into an ambush in Scott County, according to CNN affiliate WLBT. Court records show the men were robbed by three teenagers who hit them with a shotgun and took their wallets.
According to The Clarion-Ledger, in Jackson, Mississippi, the sisters had pleaded not guilty as accessories but were convicted of armed robbery, while the three accomplices received lesser sentences and since have been released.
“Regardless of what you think of the convictions, they have served more time than they should have served,” Lumumba said.
And this, from a petition for the women at Change.org:
On Christmas Eve 1993, Mississippi sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott purportedly took part in a robbery that yielded $11. No one was harmed in the robbery and neither Scott had criminal records at that time. Given this, one would think that the young women would’ve avoided hard time. In fact, the opposite happened. For the robbery, a jury ordered the women to serve two consecutive life sentences. Meanwhile, three men also convicted of the robbery are free after serving a couple of years in prison. Why the disparity?
The men involved reportedly received lighter sentences after giving authorities incriminating information about the Scott sisters. Today, these men say they only implicated the Scotts after police pressured them to do so. Supporters of the Scotts, which include the N.A.A.C.P., question the exact role the women played in the crime. Arguably the only thing worse than serving two consecutive life sentences for petty theft would be serving two consecutive life sentences after being wrongly convicted of the crime.
Ah, Mississippi justice. … The women, who are being housed in different parts of a prison just outside Jackson, Mississippi, say they want to go to Florida to be with their mother and children. Florida corrections officials would be in charge of making sure the kidney ransom is paid.
And while it’s a very good thing for the women to be freed, one wonders whether Barbour would have done it had he not come under fire for his ridiculous comments on race and the segregation era, and were he not likely seeking the presidency. I’d wager a guess it wouldn’t have happened. The Scott sisters’ case isn’t new. It has been a cause among activists for years.
Here’s Barbour’s statement on the release. I’m surprised he didn’t add a condition that the sisters appear in a campaign commercial for his presidential run, praising him as a fine example of Southern courtliness and good favor toward the colored people.