[Ppnews] Free at Last - The Scott Sisters' "Debt to Society" and the new Jim Crow

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 7 17:02:01 EST 2011

Scott Sisters' "Debt to Society" and the new Jim Crow

Ridgeway | January 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Jamie and Gladys Scott 
out of prison today into the free world. The 
sisters were convicted, on dubious grounds, of an 
armed robbery, and sentenced to life in prison. 
Both sisters lost 17 years of their lives behind 
bars before Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour 
the remainder of their draconian sentences; Jamie 
also forfeited her health, and is now suffering 
from end-stage renal disease. Yet the sisters' 
"debt to society" is still far from paid.

First and foremost, the conditions of their 
release stipulate that Gladys Scott must give 
Jamie Scott a kidney. From the very beginning of 
this medical scandal, in which Jamie's health was 
further compromised by inadequate prison health 
care, Gladys offered her kidney for transplant to 
her sister. For the governor to mandate this 
donation is both unprecedented and 
unconscionable. As 
have pointed out, releasing Jamie Scott before 
she has this costly life-saving surgery could 
also stand to save the state a considerable 
amount of money; a donation from her sister could 
save even more, and is apparently part of the price of their freedom.

At the same time, the state of Mississippi will 
also be collecting money from the Scott sisters. 
Rather than pardoning Jamie and Gladys, Barbour 
suspended their sentences. According to Nancy 
Lockhart, a legal advocate who played an 
instrumental role in the sisters' release, will 
each have to pay $52 a month for the 
administration of their parole. (They plan to 
reside in Florida, where their mother now lives.) 
Since they were serving life sentences, that 
means $624 a year for the rest of their lives. 
Both women are now in their thirties; if they 
live 40 more years, each will have paid the state 
$24,960. Of course, Jamie, in particular, will be lucky to live so long.

The consequence of failing to pay the fees 
charged for parole or probation can be a return 
to prison. As the 
<http://www.schr.org/poor>Southern Center for 
Human Rights has documented, such fees are part 
of a larger system that adds up to what are in 
effect modern-day debtor's prisons:Â Â

Contrary to what many people may believe, there 
are debtors' prisons throughout the United States 
where people are imprisoned because they are too poor to pay fines and fees.

The United States Supreme Court in Bearden v. 
Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983), held that courts 
cannot imprison a person for failure to pay a 
criminal fine unless the failure to pay was 
“willful.”  However, this constitutional commandment is often ignored.

Courts impose substantial fines as punishment for 
petty crimes as well as more serious ones. 
Besides the fines, the courts are assessing more 
and more fees to help meet the costs of the 
ever-increasing size of the criminal justice 
system: fees for ankle bracelets for monitoring; 
fees for anger management classes; for drug 
tests, for crime victims’ funds, for crime 
laboratories, for court clerks, for legal 
representation, for various retirement funds, and 
for private probation companies that do nothing 
more than collect a check once a month.

People who cannot afford the total amount 
assessed may be allowed to pay in monthly 
installments, but in many jurisdictions those 
payments must be accompanied by fees to a private 
probation company that collects them. A typical 
fee is $40 per month. People who lose their jobs 
or encounter unexpected family hardships and are 
unable to maintain payments may be jailed without 
any inquiry into their ability to pay or the 
wilfulness of their failure to pay.

This system of imprisonment-by-poverty in turn 
fits into what author Michelle Alexander, among 
others, have called 
New Jim Crow"--an America in which mass 
incarceration has become the new means of 
wielding control over poor African Americans. For 
more on how Mississippi and other southern states 
have historically used fines and imprisonment to 
extend the institution of slavery, see today's 
post on the 
Culture Blog.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20110107/d83bc677/attachment.html>

More information about the PPnews mailing list