In 2004 Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to serve a mandatory life sentence in Tennessee for the killing of a 43-year-old man who sexually assaulted her.
Cyntoia, now 28, has been in jail since she was 16 years old. This is after already experiencing years of abuse, trauma and being repeatedly sexually exploited including being kidnapped and sex trafficked. Cyntoia is now in jail continuing to suffer from more trauma. She will not be eligible for parole until she is 67 years old, that’s nearly 40 years from now.1
In the past several weeks, Cyntoia’s case has gotten the public attention that it has long deserved. National momentum to free Cyntoia is building, but what we haven’t seen so much of is pressure on District Attorney Glenn Funk–who has the power to free her. His office has the discretion to review her case and re-sentence her to time-served–freeing her from behind bars. It’s something District Attorneys across the nation are doing with cases of children sentenced to life in prison. That’s why we’re focusing on the District Attorney and demanding that he review Cyntoia’s case and free her immediately, as well as other children who have been sentenced to life in Tennessee. We know that in pressuring the local DA–in addition to the already huge national attention on Cyntoia–we can bring her home. With your help, Cyntoia will be free.
Cyntoia’s case is another devastating example of how the criminal legal system time and time again fails Black people, especially young Black girls and survivors of sexual violence. Cyntoia is a survivor of sex trafficking, which is apart of the modern day institution of slavery. She is now in prison for essentially killing her slave owner. This is something Black folks have historically been celebrated for–Cyntoia is no different than Nat Turner.
Not once did the judge, the courts, or the District Attorney consider her long painful history of surviving sexual violence. Furthermore, the legal system punishes and criminalizes Black girls and women for using their agency to fight back against abusers, rapists, and “masters”, leaving many to sit in prison for decades without any reprieve.
Not only is Cyntoia a victim of sexual abuse, she was also a child and no child should be sentenced to serve the rest of their life in prison. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of non-violent crimes were unconstitutional. Then in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded their decision to ban all juvenile life without parole sentences. This meant that counties across the country had to review all cases where a child was sentenced to life without parole and give them a different sentence. But the mandate doesn’t apply to Tennessee–where all life sentences must be reviewed for parole after 50 years. This loophole allows the state of Tennessee to trap young people in prison for life.2
District Attorneys have the power to really change the way the criminal justice system works and end the mass incarceration of Black people. They can do this by not approving unfair sentences, not setting bail at rates that no one can afford, and by seeking justice over convictions. The criminal justice system was cruel to Cyntoia, as it is to so many Black people. But District Attorney Glenn Funk can stop the cruel treatment of Cyntoia by reviewing her case, along with other children sentenced to life in prison. We know Cyntoia Brown should be free–now lets work to make sure the DA knows this too.
Cyntoia’s case is getting so much public attention right now and if we use this moment to pressure the District Attorney, who has the power to free Cyntoia, we can win this and bring her home.
Until justice is real,
–Scott, Rashad, Arisha, Clarise, Anay, Kristen, and the rest of the Color Of Change team
1.“Who is Cyntoia Brown? Social Media rallies around child sex slave sent to prison for killing abuser,”Essence, 21 November 2017
2. “Supreme Court opens door to parole for juveniles given life sentences,” National Public Radio, 25 January 2016