At long last the Scott sisters will be free! Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour in a totally bizarre act of compassion, based on public pressure, used his commutation powers to grant the sisters their freedom.
Governor Haley Barbour suspended the life sentences of Gladys and Jamie Scott, two African-American sisters who had served 16 years in prison for taking part in an $11 armed robbery. The women have always maintained their innocence. For many years civil rights advocates have called for the release the sisters. The case was brought to my attention a few years ago by Nancy Lockart, who spearheaded the campaign to free the Scott sisters.
Although I give thanks to the Governor for this act I have to question the stipulation that in order for Jamie Scott to be free she must donate a kidney to her ailing sister. An estimation was made that determined that dialysis treatments would cost the state of Mississippi $200,000 a year which did not include other treatments. If the operation could not be performed because of medical reasons they would revisit Jamie's stipulation but she would not go back to prison. In a radio interview Barbour described the suspension of sentences as the equivalent of parole. Any violation of the law could therefore land them back in prison.
So, in my view the act of compassion turns out to be a cost efficient way of ridding Mississippi with an astronomical medical bill. Barbour's twisted view of compassion and moral sleight of hand should not come as a surprise. Recently Barbour found himself in hot water after his attempt to revise the shameful legacy of the segregationist, Council of Conservative Citizens, originally called, White Citizen's Councils.
Medical ethicists say suspending a prison sentence on the condition that one sister give the other a kidney is a "quid pro quo" and threatens the ethical underpinnings of living donation laws. So in reality Gov. Barbour might have broken the law.
Gov. Barbour, who by the way aspires to run for President of the United States confirmed my thoughts by saying "The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society, 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."
Bob Herbert of the New York Times recently wrote about the case of the Scott Sisters in a piece titled "'So Utterly Inhumane." He said, "This is Mississippi we're talking about, a place that in many ways has not advanced much beyond the Middle Ages." I agree one hundred percent. instead of giving the Scott Sisters their freedom through a true compassionate act of clemency, Governor Barbour instead used the barbaric stipulation that freedom in this case is the cost of a kidney.
I wish the Scott Sisters the best in their regaining their freedom and hope they lead fruitful and productive lives. And I pray that Governor Barbour does not use the freedom for organs tradeoff anymore in the future to save the state of Mississippi tax dollars.
Anthony Papa is the author of 15 to Life and the Manager of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance