By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 12:19 PM
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) announced late Wednesday that he will grant an early release from prison to two sisters serving unusually long sentences for armed robbery.
Gladys and Jamie Scott have each served 16 years of a life sentence. Their case had become a cause celebre among civil rights groups, including the NAACP, which mounted a national campaign to free the women.
The Scotts were convicted in 1994 for an armed robbery in which they led two men into an ambush. The men were robbed of $11, and their supporters contend that the Scotts, who are black, received extraordinary punishment for the crime.
Barbour said he decided to suspend the sentences in light of the poor health of 38-year-old Jamie Scott, who requires regular dialysis. The governor asserted that 36-year-old Gladys Scott's release is contingent on her giving a kidney to her inmate sibling.
"The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society," Barbour said in a statement. "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."
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous will meet with Barbour on Thursday, and the organization has scheduled a press conference.
"This is a shining example of how governors should use their commutation powers," Jealous said in an interview, praising Barbour's decision.
Jealous and the Mississippi NAACP had been working for much of the year to win the release of the Scotts, who would have come up for parole in 2014. NAACP members received e-mails asking them to sign a petition, and the association has pushed for news coverage of the case.
Barbour, who is weighing a run for president, announced his decision a week after he ran afoul of civil rights advocates. Last week, Barbour backtracked on comments he made about the civil rights era in Mississippi.
The governor, who came of age during the civil rights movement, told the Weekly Standard that he didn't remember the time "being that bad," and he spoke benignly of the white Citizens Council in his home town. The councils enforced segregationist policies. Barbour condemned such groups and policies in a later statement.