The Governor of Tennessee Just Granted Clemency to Cyntoia Brown

Brown will be released from prison August 7.

Cyntoia Brown appears in court during her clemency hearing in May.Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim serving a life sentence in Tennessee for killing a man when she was 16, will walk free this summer after spending over a decade incarcerated. The yearslong effort by criminal justice activists and victim advocates to obtain clemency for Brown, who killed a man soliciting her for sex, finally came to fruition Monday, when Gov. Bill Haslam ordered Brown be released on August 7.

“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Haslam, a Republican, said in a statement. “Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

In advocating clemency, Brown’s supporters noted her pursuit of education while in prison. She got her GED and a degree from a local university. Brown’s quest for clemency became a cause célèbre for celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, and LeBron James. Activists and others reacted to the news of her clemency on social media:

In a statement, Brown, now 30, said she hopes to use her newfound freedom to “help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”

“With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people,” she said.

Had Haslam not intervened, Brown would have been in prison until she was at least 69, when she would have been eligible for parole. Brown’s release requires that she remain on parole for 10 years, complete 50 hours of community service, receive counseling, and find a job. When she’s released, she’ll have served 15 years in prison.

The push for Brown’s release has been especially intense in the past few weeks as Haslam’s governorship comes to a close; fellow Republican Bill Lee assumes office January 19. Groups on the ground like Black Lives Matter Nashville phone-banked and urged other state politicians to support clemency in an effort to sway the outgoing governor. In an interview with Mother Jones last month, BLM Nashville organizer Martaze Gaines said although clemency for Brown was the primary goal, justice would ultimately require a “dismantling” of the prison system, especially lengthy sentences for crimes committed by juveniles.

“We are really trying to reimagine a new future without these forms of punishment,” he said. “They don’t really do anything to restore a person. When we think about these [sentences] of 51 years, especially for those who were minors, it takes away the humanity they have inherently by birth.”

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate