Solitary confinement can be psychologically damaging for any inmate, but it is especially perverse when it is used to discipline children and teenagers. At juvenile detention centers and adult prisons and jails across the country, minors are locked in isolated cells for 22 hours or more a day. A recent Justice Department review of suicides in juvenile facilities found that more than half of the minors who had killed themselves had done so in isolation.
Rose had speech and language delays. At school, her mother and I found Rose standing alone on the cement floor of a basement mop closet, illuminated by a single light bulb. There was nothing in the closet for a child — no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.
Rose got dressed and we removed her from the school. We later learned that Rose had been locked in the closet five times that morning. She said that during the last confinement, she needed to use the restroom but didn’t want to wet her outfit. So she disrobed. Rather than help her, the school called us and then covered the narrow door’s small window with a file folder, on which someone had written “Don’t touch!”
We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.
Jamie, 38, and Gladys, 36, are serving life sentences in Mississippi for their role in a 1993 robbery that netted $11, despite having no prior criminal record. The three men also arrested in connection with the robbery pleaded guilty and have served their terms. Two of them testified against the sisters in return for lesser sentences. The prosecutor, Ken Turner, who since retired, said Tuesday that while he believes they are guilty, some relief for the sisters’ sentences is “appropriate.”
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, in Jackson on Tuesday, officially asked Republican Gov. Haley Barbour for a pardon. “It is a travesty that in the state of Mississippi, the lives of two Black women are valued at little more than 11 dollars,” Jealous said in a statement. “From the outset, the measures in which the Scott Sisters were convicted were questionable and pattern themselves after dubious criminal justice trends in Mississippi and nationwide. We intend to pursue justice to the fullest extent for the Scott Sisters, and will continue our push for criminal justice reform throughout America.”
Jamie was 21 at the time and Gladys just 19. But what has happened to them takes your breath away. They were convicted by a jury and handed the most draconian sentences imaginable — short of the death penalty. Each was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in state prison, and they have been imprisoned ever since. Jamie is now 38 and seriously ill. Both of her kidneys have failed. Gladys is 36.
This is Mississippi we’re talking about, a place that in many ways has not advanced much beyond the Middle Ages.
It was a serious crime. But the case against the sisters was extremely shaky. In any event, even if they were guilty, the punishment is so wildly out of proportion to the offense that it should not be allowed to stand.
Three teenagers pleaded guilty to robbing the men. They ranged in age from 14 to 18. And in their initial statements to investigators, they did not implicate the Scott sisters.
But a plea deal was arranged in which the teens were required to swear that the women were involved, and two of the teens were obliged, as part of the deal, to testify against the sisters in court.
Howard Patrick, who was 14 at the time of the robbery, said that the pressure from the authorities to implicate the sisters began almost immediately. He testified, “They said if I didn’t participate with them, they would send me to Parchman and make me out a female.”
He was referring to Mississippi State Prison, which was once the notoriously violent Parchman prison farm. The lawyer questioning the boy said, “In other words, they would send you to Parchman and you would get raped, right?”
“Yes, sir,” the boy said.
The teens were sentenced to eight years in prison each, and they were released after serving just two years.
This is a case that should be repugnant to anyone with the slightest interest in justice. The right thing to do at this point is to get the sisters out of prison as quickly as possible and ensure that Jamie gets proper medical treatment.
Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has to decide whether to show mercy to two sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, who are each serving double consecutive life sentences in state prison for a robbery in which no one was injured and only $11 was taken.
This should be an easy call for a law-and-order governor who has, nevertheless, displayed a willingness to set free individuals convicted of far more serious crimes. Mr. Barbour has already pardoned four killers and suspended the life sentence of a fifth.
The Scott sisters have been in prison for 16 years. Jamie, now 38, is seriously ill. Both of her kidneys have failed. Keeping the two of them locked up any longer is unconscionable, grotesquely inhumane.
Family members and advocates for Jamie and Gladys Scott, sisters serving life terms in Mississippi for their roles in a 1993 robbery that netted $11, are cautiously optimistic they may be released soon. “I wish they would just hurry up and let them out,” said their mother, Evelyn Rasco. “I hope that is where it is leading to. That would be the only justified thing to do.”