Mississippi: The Land That Time Forgot

I had heard something about Gov. Haley Barbour releasing a woman from prison on condition that she donate her kidney. Wow, what will small-government conservatism come up with next, I thought.

But today I read the details in Bob Herbert’s column. Two sisters named Jamie and Gladys Scott have been serving double consecutive life sentences for taking part in a robbery in which $11 was stolen. That’s right, $11. No one was harmed during the robbery, Herbert says, and the sisters had no prior criminal record. The Scott sisters have been in prison for 16 years.

This is from Human Rights:

The Scotts, who were 19 and 21 when the robbery occurred, have been incarcerated for 16 years. Meanwhile, three male acquaintances also convicted in the robbery are free after serving just a couple of years in prison. The men reportedly received lighter sentences in exchange for providing the prosecution with incriminating information against the Scotts.

“The authorities did not even argue that the Scott sisters had committed the robbery,” writes Bob Herbert of the New York Times. “They were accused of luring two men into a trap, in which the men had their wallets taken by acquaintances of the sisters, one of whom had a shotgun.”

Jamie Scott now has a life-threatening kidney disease. In his announcement of the suspension of the sentence, Gov. Barbour expressed no concern for Jamie Scott’s health. Instead, he said, “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, the only reason the outrageous sentence was suspended — not commuted — is that Jamie Scott’s health care was costing the state too much money.

(But I assume the sisters have no insurance, and Mississippi is notoriously chintzy with Medicaid. So I suspect they may have to rely on charity to pay for a transplant. We’ll see.)

Bob Herbert wrote today that the sisters were not informed of the suspension, but learned about it on television. Nor was Gladys Scott consulted about donating her kidney, although she said it was something she wanted to do, anyway.

Herbert continues,

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.

I posted a photo of the sisters just so we’re all clear about where this contempt is coming from. You might recall Gov. Barbour’s recent bout of amnesia regarding the civil rights movement? And this guy is considered by some to be one of the GOP’s more respectable potential presidential candidates in 2012.

And then there’s the gender issue. In 2009, Randy Radley Balko reported in Slate that Gov. Balko Barbour had “pardoned, granted clemency to, or suspended the sentences of at least five convicted murderers, four of whom killed their wives or girlfriends.” (emphasis added).

Well, you know, killing a wife or girlfriend is not like real murder. They probably had it coming. (/sarcasm) Note that all five of these men had been in a prison program that assigned them to do odd jobs around the governor’s mansion.

See also: Scott Sisters Kidney Donation Threatens Organ Transplant Laws

Update: See E.R. Shipp in The Root:

The judge who essentially sentenced the Scott sisters, Jamie and Gladys, to life in prison was downright lenient in 2005 when it came to sentencing one of the ringleaders of the lynching of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964 — Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. That despicable human being was given 60 years — 20 years for each murder? — but left free while appealing his conviction.

Jeebus, people, you might as well go back to wearing sheets and burning crosses and stop pretending. You aren’t fooling most folks.