Ex-San Quentin Warden Takes Up Banner Against Death Penalty

Jeanne Woodford is among those joining the debate over the death penalty and Prop. 34 during public meetings this week.

In her time as warden of , Jeanne Woodford oversaw four death row executions at the infamous California prison.

On Sept. 7 as part of the 's , Woodford will talk about her background in the criminal justice system and explain why she's been working to pass Prop. 34, a ballot measure that seeks to replace the death penalty in California with life in prison without possibility of parole.

The Marin Coalition will host a luncheon presentation Wednesday, Sept. 5, in Fairfax, with attorney Aundré Herron, a member of the Board of Directors for Death Penalty Focus and a member of the ACLU National Board of Directors, and Mark Peterson, District Attorney for Contra Costa County.  The topic will be:  "Proposition 34 - Death Penalty Reform - For & Against." The presentation will be at Deer Park Villa at 11:30 a.m.

Woodford started her work at San Quentin in 1978 as a correctional officer during a time when female officers were somewhat of a rarity. She rose through the ranks to become the prison's first female warden in 2000, gaining respect from colleagues and inmates alike.

In early 2011, Woodford became executive director of Death Penalty Focus and is also currently a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice. Woodford is the official proponent of "Yes on 34", the SAFE California Act of 2012.

We asked Woodford why she supports Prop. 34 and what she's doing about it.

Patch: Was there a particular moment in your career that solidified your opposition to the death penalty?
Jeanne Woodford: I've always been morally opposed to the death penalty, but I'm in public policy now so for me it's about the policy. In 1978, there were six inmates on death row at San Quentin. Today there are 723 inmates, which is the largest number in the country. We've spent billions of dollars and have had 13 executions. It's clear that the death penalty is a failed public policy.

Patch: Is there a perception that the death penalty makes us safer?
JW: I know that what makes us safer is solving crimes, so spending money to solve the 46 percent of unsolved homicides and 5 percent of unsolved reported rapes makes much more sense than spending the money on guys in prison that are going to die of old age anyway. There are rape kits sitting on shelves because local jurisdictions don't have the funds to use them.

Patch: What sort of reception have you gotten so far to this campaign?
JW: The reception has been really good, audiences have been very appreciative. However, I wish we would have more pro-death penalty people show up. I think the facts speak for themselves. I would like people who support the death penalty to see the facts and then make a decision for themselves. Hopefully the facts will convince them that they need to vote yes on Prop 34.

Patch: What are the major points you will be touching on in your talk here in Mill Valley?
JW: I'll be explaining how a portion of the savings ($100 million dollars in total) from passing Prop. 34 will be used for solving the unsolved rapes and homicides that happen in California. I'll talk about what it means to me to be the official proponent of Prop, 34, and what really makes us safer.

The 411: Former  warden Jeanne Woodford speaks about the death penalty and Prop. 34, a ballot measure to eliminate it in California. A wine reception begin at 6:30 p.m. and the program begin at 7 p.m. The event is free but registration is recommended. To register, call the Library Reference Desk or sign up online

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Chris Bernstien September 06, 2012 at 08:49 AM
The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago, the ACLU, and similarly-oriented trust funds. It includes provisions that would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials and significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those grounds. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.
Pamela Elliottq September 06, 2012 at 10:56 PM
I have to disagree with your "bottom line" that the ACLU and other proponents of the Act are responsible for the cost of the death penalty. I used to work on death penalty appeals and know that your statement is simply not true. Most proponents of the death penalty (based only on my experience) believe that the appeal process is too drawn out. The simple fact is that there are not enough qualified attorneys to work on death penalty appeals. As a result, those condemned do not even have an appointed attorney for their automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court for approximately 7-10 years. I have to ask, exactly how is the ACLU responsible for the high cost of executions?
Chris Bernstien September 07, 2012 at 04:39 AM
Your mixing up the facts. The ACLU and out-of-state trusts are funding Prop. 34, but it is the anti-death penalty advocates in CA (liberal attorneys and politicians) who have created a system that is full of costly delays.
Dudley Sharp September 08, 2012 at 12:16 PM
1) Cost Studies Totally Unreliable There is zero credible evidence that ending the death penalty will save $130 million per year or that such ending will make available an additional $100 million to help investigations of murder or rape cases. So far, the cost studies have been a horrendous and misleading joke, easily uncovered by fact checking, which few seem to be interested in. Response to Absurd California Death Penalty Cost “Study” http://goo.gl/RbQDU 2) 95% of Murder Victim Survivors Support Death Penalty "US Death Penalty Support at 80%: World Support Remains High" http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/04/us-death-penalty-support-at-80-world.html 3) Innocents Better Protected with Death Penalty Of all endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely. The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-penalty-saving-more-innocent.html Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/innocents-more-at-risk-without-death.html
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