Brown had been serving a life sentence for the murder of a man who solicited sex from her when she was 16-years-old.
In a statement, Haslam said, “This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case. Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”
In a statement released by her lawyers, Brown thanked Haslam "for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me."
Brown was charged as an adult in the 2004 murder of 43-year-old Johnny Allen who purchased her for $150 in exchange for sex. At the time she was 16-years-old and living with an older pimp known as "Cut Throat." She was not allowed to testify at her original trial and evidence of her traumatic childhood history and severe neurodevelopmental disorder wasn't heard. Brown was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences.
In 2011 filmmaker Dan Birman's documentary about Brown, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story aired on PBS. The film addressed the issues of U.S. juvenile justice reform, systemic bias against women of colour engaged in sex work, and the lack of a social safety net for women like Brown who are at a high risk for sex trafficking.
Brown's case next came to broader public attention when celebrities including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and LeBron James picked up her cause.
Governor Haslam's decision to commute Brown's sentence is being hailed in the U.S. criminal justice community.
Jessica Jackson, the National Director of #Cut50 a group which just helped usher in the passage of the landmark criminal justice reform bill, The First Step Act told Refinery29 they were thrilled and encouraged by the decision, both on behalf of Cyntoia Brown and the larger population of women currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons.
"This is a major step toward dismantling the sexual violence to prison pipeline. More than 80% of women currently incarcerated report that they were raped or sexually assaulted prior to prison. We hope this begins a much larger conversation about the dignity and decarceration of women nationwide."
While in prison, Brown received her GED and a college degree from Lipscomb University. Once released, she will participate in counseling and perform community service with at-risk youth.