Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scott Sisters' Prison Release Is Tied to Donation of Kidney

December 30, 2010

Sisters’ Prison Release Is Tied to Donation of Kidney

New York Times

Two Mississippi sisters serving double life sentences for their roles in an $11 armed robbery will be released, but only on the condition that the younger sibling donate her kidney to her sister, whose organs are failing, state officials said Thursday.

Gov. Haley Barbour signed orders suspending the prison terms of Jamie and Gladys Scott after a long campaign of online petitions, blogs, Facebook pages and Internet radio programs rallied support for the sisters’ release.

A Web site called Free the Scott Sisters recently described problems that Jamie Scott, 38, was having in receiving dialysis in sanitary conditions while at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, where she and her sister Gladys, 36, are being held. Jamie Scott, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, suffered kidney failure in January 2010. She receives dialysis at least three times a week.

Jamie Scott wrote a letter that was posted in January 2009 on a site called Strange Justice in which she sought public support to pressure Mississippi officials.

“We are compelled to plead and ask for a public outcry,” she wrote. “Attention needs to be given to public officials and a county that refuses to let justice be served. Our situation is complex, multidimensional and heart-wrenching. We will never cease speaking out against the disservice done to us. However, we have discovered our voice carries very little weight, especially now.”

As Jamie Scott’s health failed, more traditional advocates — including black churches, community leaders, newspapers and radio stations and the N.A.A.C.P. — joined in urging that the Scotts be released.

But Charles Mombo, editor of the Chocolate City blog, said Mississippi would probably not have agreed to release the women if not for Internet activism.

“Once something hits the social networks, it’s out there instantly,” Mr. Mombo said. “It’s much faster than going to church and hearing the pastor talk about it once a week.”

The Mississippi Corrections Department will not be responsible for the cost of Jamie Scott’s kidney transplant operation, though the sisters are probably eligible for Medicaid, officials said.

The idea for donating the kidney came from the sisters themselves, advocates for the women said. Suspending a prison sentence contingent on an organ donation is considered highly unusual, if not unprecedented, legal experts said.

The Scotts were arrested on Christmas Eve 1993 and convicted the next year of leading two men into an ambush during which the men were robbed of about $11, according to the trial transcript.

The sisters’ accomplices, three boys ages 14 to 18, have served their sentences and were released from custody for the crime years ago, Mississippi officials said. The sisters have denied playing any role in the crime.

Governor Barbour said his action, which has been under consideration for nearly a year, was motivated in part by Jamie Scott’s declining health and the cost of caring for her.

“Jamie Scott requires regular dialysis, and her sister has offered to donate one of her kidneys to her,” Mr. Barbour said in a statement. “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.”

The sisters have asked that after their release they be permitted to move to Pensacola, Fla., to live with their mother and their children. Jamie Scott has three children; Gladys Scott has two.

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