Shame on Mississippi! Article: For Two Sisters, the End of an Ordeal

For Two Sisters, the End of an Ordeal
By BOB HERBERT
Published: December 31, 2010
New York Times
I got a call on New Year’s Eve from Gladys Scott, which was a terrific way for 2010 to end.

As insane as it may seem, Gladys and her sister, Jamie, are each serving consecutive life sentences in a state prison in Mississippi for their alleged role in a robbery in 1993 in which no one was hurt and $11 supposedly was taken.

Gladys was on the phone, excited and relieved, because Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi had agreed to suspend the prison terms.

“I’ve waited so long for this day to come,” she said.

I was happy for the Scott sisters and deeply moved as Gladys spoke of how desperately she wanted to “just hold” her two children and her mother, who live in Florida. But I couldn’t help thinking that right up until the present moment she and Jamie have been treated coldly and disrespectfully by the governor and other state officials. It’s as if the authorities have found it impossible to hide their disdain, their contempt, for the two women.

The prison terms were suspended — not commuted — on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie, who is seriously ill with diabetes and high blood pressure and receives dialysis at least three times a week. Gladys had long expressed a desire to donate a kidney to her sister, but to make that a condition of her release was unnecessary, mean-spirited, inhumane and potentially coercive. It was a low thing to do.

Governor Barbour did not offer any expression of concern for Jamie’s health in his statement announcing the sentence suspension.

He said of the sisters: “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.”

By all means, get those medical costs off the books if you can.

I asked Gladys how she had learned that she was to be released. “Oh, I saw it while I was looking at the news on television,” she said.

The authorities hadn’t bothered to even tell the sisters. After all, who are they? As Gladys put it, “Nobody told me a thing.”

I asked if she had seen Jamie, who is in another section of the prison, since the governor’s decision had been announced. She said no one had tried to get the two of them together for even a telephone conversation.

“I haven’t seen her or heard from her,” Gladys said. “I want to see her. I want to see how she’s doing and take care of her.”

I am not surprised at Governor Barbour’s behavior. He’s not the first person who comes to mind when I think of admirable public officials. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., noted that the governor had been on the radio this week asserting that there was hardly anyone in prison who didn’t deserve to be there. It’s an interesting comment from a governor who has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to free prisoners convicted of the most heinous crimes.

The Jackson Free Press, an alternative weekly, and Slate magazine have noted that Mr. Barbour has pardoned four killers and suspended the life sentence of a fifth. So cold-blooded murder is no reason, in Mr. Barbour’s view, to keep the prison doors closed.

This is also a governor who said recently, while reminiscing about the civil rights struggle and the treatment of blacks in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss., in the 1960s: “I just don’t remember it being that bad.” The comment was in an article in The Weekly Standard in which the governor managed to find some complimentary things to say about the rabidly racist White Citizens Councils.

Faced with heavy and widespread criticism, he later pulled back on the comments, describing the era as “difficult and painful” and the councils as “indefensible.”

The only reason the Scott sisters have gotten any relief at all is because of an extraordinary network of supporters who campaigned relentlessly over several years on their behalf. Ben Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., emerged as one of the leaders of the network. The concerted effort finally paid off.

Gladys Scott said her 16 years in prison have been extremely difficult and that she had gotten depressed from time to time but had not given up hope. “It was a very bad experience, ” she said.

What is likely to get lost in the story of the Scott sisters finally being freed is just how hideous and how outlandish their experience really was. How can it be possible for individuals with no prior criminal record to be sentenced to two consecutive life terms for a crime in which no one was hurt and $11 was taken? Who had it in for them, and why was that allowed to happen?

The Scott sisters may go free, but they will never receive justice.
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Many people helped to free the Scott Sisters, first and foremost their mother Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, Nancy Lockhart, Jim Ridgeway, many hundreds of grassroots supporters that  kept this the reality of the injustice done to them alive. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/opinion/01herbert.html?ref=opinion
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 1, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition.

March for Freedom of Wrongful Convictions: Oct 2nd, 2010

RAISING AWARENESS OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS AND THE NEED FOR JUSTICE REFORM

MARCH FOR FREEDOM OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS 2010
On Oct. 2 2010, demonstrators are gathering in locations across America to raise awareness of wrongful convictions, spotlight the need for criminal justice reform, and support for a death penalty moratorium.

National Event Information: http://freedommarchusa.org/

EVENTS:

Demonstrations / events will take place at these locations:

1. Phoenix, AZ — Coordinator: Camille Tilley – justice4courtney@mac.com

2. Los Angeles, CA – Coordinator: Gloria Killian – acwip@yahoo.com

3. Boise, ID – Coordinator: Gary Adams. Boise, ID – garyadams@getmpi.com / gla1949@hotmail.com

4. Lansing, MI – Coordinator: Ursula Armijo at ubarmijo@comcast.net

5. Poughkeepsie, NY – Coordinator: Patricia Borden pmborden@gmail.com.

6. Pittsburgh, PA – Coordinator: MaryAnn Lubas — mlubas2@yahoo.com

If there is no event in your area, you can support this cause by:

1. Spreading the word about wrongful convictions and the need for criminal justice reform to your circle of friends, co-workers and acquaintances.

2. Sending an email, letter or calling your elected representatives to say that you are concerned about wrongful convictions and our justice system.

WHO:

Demonstrations organized by grassroots volunteers representing these organizations:

– Freedom March USA, Marching for Awareness of Wrongful Convictions – http://freedommarchusa.org/

– National Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform – http://www.reformingjustice.com/

CONTACT:

For information on a specific event, contact the coordinator listed above.

In Texas, the following organizations and individuals support this cause and serve as an information resource on wrongful convictions and the need for criminal justice reform:

Information on Oct 2 Events & Criminal Justice Reform:

National Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform – http://www.reformingjustice.com/

Texas chapter:

Lucy Frost justicereform@gmail.com

Americas Wrongfully Convicted – http://www.americaswrongfullyconvicted.com/

Roger McClendon
America’s Wrongfully Convicted
roger@americaswrongfullyconvicted.com

Information Resource on Criminal Justice Reform:

Dr. LeRoy Gillam, president Southeastern Christian Association (SECA)
832-228-3207

In The Interest of Justice (ITIJ)
http://www.itij.org/

Pastor Rod Carver
Supporters of Hannah Overton: www.freehannah.com

Terri Been, Kids Against The Death Penalty: http://www.freewebs.com/kadp

Kristin Houle Exec. Director
Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP): www.tcadp.org/

Jeff Blackburn or Cory Session
Innocence Project Of Texas: http://ipoftexas.org/

Lily Hughes, Campaign To End The Death Penalty: http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/content/index.php

BACKGROUND

MARCH FOR FREEDOM OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS 2010 aims to raise united voices for justice.

Modern science and technology have shaken the strong faith many once placed in the accuracy of judgments made by our criminal justice system.

Thanks to DNA analysis of biological evidence, hundreds have been exonerated—many after spending years on death row.

Research by Seton Hall law professor D. Michael Risinger indicates that 3.3%-5% of those convicted of crimes are factually innocent. Those who value justice demand that the criminal justice system apply the lessons to be learned from the many cases of wrongful conviction, and support policy initiatives that:

1. Raise the accuracy rate in judgments of guilt and innocence.

2. Resolve credible post-conviction claims of innocence.

3. Remedy the tragic impact of wrongful convictions.

For those who are guilty of crimes, we support enlightened approaches to incarceration that nurture genuine rehabilitation and reintegration of productive citizens whenever possible.

FACTS ABOUT AMERICA’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM:

– The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world, including the far more populous nation of China[1].

– One in 100 Adult Americans is incarcerated in a prison or jail.

– One in 31 Adult Americans is incarcerated, on probation or parole.

– Incarceration rates heavily concentrated among men, racial and ethnic minorities, and 20-and 30-year olds.

1 in 9 Black men 20-34 years old, 1 in 15 Black men 18+, 1 in 36 Hispanic men 18+.

– Texas is one of the leading states in verified wrongful convictions. To date, more than 38 people have been exonerated in Texas using DNA.

– Nationally, more than 133 people have been exonerated from death row since 1973[2].

– Expert estimates of wrongful convictions range from 3% to 12%, based on data from DNA & other exonerations[3].

– Executed But Possibly Innocent: Of the cases frequently cited as those executed despite strong evidence of innocence, 6 are Texas cases[4].

– How many innocent people are in prison? No one knows, but experts agree that “any plausible guess at the total number of miscarriages of justice in America in the last fifteen years must be in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.”[5]

Senator Jim Webb’s page about the problem and legislation he has introduced: http://webb.senate.gov/email/criminaljusticereform.html

“America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation’s prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.” – Senator Jim Webb

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[1] Pew Research Center – http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/8015PCTS_Prison08_FINAL_2-1-1_FORWEB.pdf

[2] http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-and-death-penalty

[3] Research by Seton Hall law professor D. Michael Risinger and other expert estimates

[4] http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent

[5] http://truthinjustice.org/exonerations-in-us.pdf