[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 ofÂ prison today into the free world.Â The
sisters were convicted, on dubious grounds, of an
armed robbery, and sentenced to life in prison.
Both sisters lostÂ 17 years of their lives behind
barsÂ 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 ScottÂ 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.Â For the governorÂ to mandate this
donation is both unprecedented and
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 theÂ 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.Â According to Nancy
Lockhart, a legal advocate who played an
instrumental role in the sisters' release,Â will
each have to pay $52 a month for the
administration of their parole. (They plan toÂ
reside in Florida, where their mother now lives.)
Since they were serving life sentences, that
meansÂ $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.Â Of course,Â Jamie, in particular, will be lucky to live so long.
The consequence of failing to pay the fees
charged for paroleÂ or probation canÂ 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
âwillful.âÂ 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 assessingÂ 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 victimsâ 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.Â A typical
fee is $40 per month.Â People who lose their jobs
or encounter unexpectedÂ 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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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