What clemency actually means for Cyntoia Brown

After spending almost half of her life in prison, Cyntoia Brown has been granted clemency by lame duck Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. What does it mean?

Cyntoia Brown thegrio.com
File- This May 23, 2018, file photo shows Cyntoia Brown, entering her clemency hearing at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn. (Lacy Atkins /The Tennessean via AP, Pool, File)

After spending almost half of her life in prison, 30-year-old Cyntoia Brown has been granted clemency by lame duck Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Brown was sent to prison for life at 16-years old after she shot and killed 43-year-old Johnny Allen Mitchell, a man who attempted to purchase her for sex.

Brown’s case caught national attention over the years due to a documentary as well as social media attention from celebrities like Kim Kardashian. The internet erupted in joyful excitement at the announcement of her being granted clemency earlier this week, but what does clemency actually mean for Cyntoia Brown?

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Clemency, when it comes to crime, is a general term that refers to providing some form of relief for a criminal punishment/sentence. In Brown’s case, she was given a full commutation and will be released from prison on August, 2019. A commutation is essentially a lesser sentence or punishment for someone convicted of a crime. For Brown, that means that upon her release from prison on August 7,2019, she will immediately begin 10 years on parole and will be subject to certain restrictions and conditions for that time period. That is in lieu of the life sentence she was originally given. Brown’s conviction will remain on her record and she will have to navigate that situation as she attempts to start her new life of relative freedom outside of the prison gates.  If Brown had been exonerated, which Haslam has granted before, her conviction would have been erased.

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As Meek Mill has been saying since his release from jail last year, parole and probation can seem more like a trap than a relief. Of course, with nearly 15 years of prison under her belt, even the smallest of freedoms like wearing whatever she wants will feel great for Brown. But what Meek Mill was referring to, was the litany of rules that restrict movement and actions for people under court supervision.

“I had eight years of probation that turned to 16 years of probation,” Mill said in a 2018 interview with Lester Holt. “Something is not working.”

According to the criminal justice reform organization #Cut50, 4.6 million adults in America are currently on parole or probation and 60,000 Americans are in jail right now for minor parole violations. While parole is exponentially better than serving life in prison, it still has its potential pitfalls.

Part of what Brown will be doing in advance of her August release is participating in a specially crafted prisoner re-entry program that is meant to assist her in making the transition to the outside world as smooth as possible. The program takes approximately six months to complete.

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