Former San Quentin State Prison Warden Jeanne Woodford, who now heads an anti-death-penalty group, said at a conference in San Francisco today that she believes the time has come to end executions in the nation.
“I have had the opportunity to view this issue from every point of view,” Woodford said during a panel discussion on the future of the death penalty.
“I absolutely am passionate about the position that it’s time to end the death penalty in the United States,” she said.
Woodford, 56, of Benicia, spent nearly 30 years in the corrections field and presided over four executions while warden of San Quentin between 1999 and 2004.
This month, she became executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based national organization that opposes capital punishment.
The panel discussion was part of a daylong criminal justice conference convened by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Woodford said an alternative to execution, life in prison without possibility of parole, “is a real sentence,” but one that “gives inmates opportunity to change, to work, to give back to state, and to make restitution to the victims’ families.”
She was asked by panel moderator Matt Gonzalez, the chief attorney in Adachi’s office, whether she had observed that executions gave victims’ families a sense of closure.
The former warden said she could not speak for the victims’ families, but said her observation was that an execution did not appear to provide closure.
Woodford said the murders for which inmates are executed are often “horrific crimes” and said she felt compassion for the families, but said, “I don’t think there’s anything an execution can do for them.
“I think they come there with high hopes … and it just doesn’t happen,” she said.
Also on the panel was San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who repeated previous statements that he is not categorically opposed to the death penalty, but thinks there are many flaws in capital punishment.
Gascon cited the possibility of wrongful convictions, the cost of executions, the possible lack of closure for families and the disparate proportion of minority group members on death row.
“I have been quoted as saying it is an imperfect tool,” Gascon said. “It is not a very efficient way but it is the state of the law and I’m the chief law enforcement officer,” he said.
John Thompson, a Louisiana man who was on death row in that state for 14 years before being exonerated by evidence that was originally hidden by prosecutors, said, “There are too many flaws in this system.”
Referring to executions of people who are wrongfully convicted, Thompson said, “If you kill an innocent man, that’s murder, straight-out murder.”
California now has more than 700 inmates on death row with cases in various stages of appeal.
Natasha Minsker, the death penalty policy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, cited a recent David Binder Research poll that showed 63 percent of Californians surveyed favor converting those sentences to life in prison without parole, with a budget saving of $1 billion over five years.
“Every day we get closer to ending the death penalty in the United States and across the world,” Minsker predicted.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News