This month, Jaime and Gladys Scott walked out of prison 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 Mississippi Gov. 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 Gov. 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 arrested 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 fewer than three.
The sisters’ case has become increasingly tragic and urgent over the years. While in prison, Jamie lost the 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, Fla., where their mother and children live. Jamie has three children, ages 23, 20 and 17, and two grandchildren, ages 5 and 3. Gladys has two children, ages 22 and 15 and two grandchildren, ages 7 and 4.
Jealous said that the NAACP will continue to ensure that the sisters receive the best medical care available, and Lumumba said 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,” Jealous said.
According to Jealous, the sisters’ release speaks to the urgent need for the work the NAACP and its allies have been doing for more than a century to encourage governors and presidents to use their clemency powers to advance justice.
“The case of the Scott sisters gives hope to others who are unjustly imprisoned,” Jealous said. “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 Gov. 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.”
Ben Wrobel is a press assistant with the NAACP.