Former San Quentin Warden Woodford says death penalty almost dead

To hear former San Quentin State Prison Warden Jeanne Woodford tell it, the death penalty is all but dead in California.

“The political consensus is that California’s death penalty is on its way out,” she told an audience of about 70 people Saturday in the auditorium at the Redwoods in Mill Valley. “The question remains when and how it will go.”

The 61-year-old Woodford, who oversaw four executions during her five-year stint as warden of San Quentin, was a prominent leader in last year’s narrowly defeated Proposition 34 campaign to replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole.

On the eve of the election, a Field Poll showed the Prop. 34 initiative in the lead. It ended up losing 48 percent to 52 percent, a margin of just 500,000 votes.

She pointed out that public opinion has changed drastically since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, when 70 percent of California voters favored it. Since then, it has cost the state $4 billion to administer.

“If 250,001 voters had changed their minds and voted yes, we would have won and no longer have the death penalty in this state,” she said, adding, “We did succeed in forever changing the landscape on this issue in this state. With 48 percent of voters supporting repeal, we have shown that the state is now evenly divided on the death penalty. We have fundamentally changed the conversation.”

In opposing the death penalty, Woodford, who rose through the ranks to become the director of the entire California prison system, says she knows from first hand experience that it wastes money, does not make law-abiding citizens any safer and risks executing death row inmates who may have been wrongfully convicted and are innocent. (Marin Independent Journal)

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