On February 25, a small crowd gathered outside the state capitol in Jackson, Mississippi, to push for the release of sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott, who are serving two consecutive life sentences apiece for a 1993 armed robbery in which no one was injured and the take, by most accounts, was about $11. Supporters of the Scott sisters have long tried to draw attention to their case, as an extreme example of the distorted justice and Draconian sentencing policies that have overloaded prisons, crippled state budgets, and torn families apart across the United States. But in recent months, their cause has taken on a new urgency, because for Jamie Scott, an unwarranted life sentence may soon become a death sentence.

Jamie Scott, now spending her 16th year in prison.

Jamie Scott, 38, is suffering from kidney failure. At the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Pearl, where Jamie and Gladys are incarcerated, medical services are provided by a private contractor called Wexford Health Sources, which has been the subject of lawsuits and legislative investigations in several states over inadequate treatment of the inmates in its care. According to Jamie Scott’s family, in the six weeks since her condition became life-threatening, she has endured faulty or missed dialysis sessions, infections, and other complications. She has received no indication that a kidney transplant is being considered as an option, though her sister is a willing donor.

Jamie Scott’s family and legal advisors believe the poor health care she is receiving in prison places her life at risk. They have sent pleas for clemency or compassionate release to Governor Haley Barbour, whose tough-on-crime posturing and dubious record on issuing pardons do not bode well for Jamie. According to a local television station that reported on the rally at the capitol, a spokesperson for Barbour said: “Jamie Scott was tried, convicted and incarcerated, and she is receiving her care with the Department of Corrections.” 

The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has a provision for what it calls “conditional medical release,” but Scott is not a candidate, department spokesperson Suzanne Garbo Singletary said in an email last week, because “MDOC policy provides that an inmate must have a condition that is ‘incapacitating, totally disabling and/or terminal in nature’ in order to qualify.” So Jamie Scott appears to be caught in a deadly Catch-22: In order to be released from prison, she must convince the MDOC that her illness is terminal or “totally disabling”; but the only sure way for her to prove this is to die in prison.

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