This statement was produced by A Living Chance: a storytelling project of California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), created with women and transgender people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences. This statement reflects conversations with our partners inside prison whose voices are too often omitted from public discourse on measures that directly affect them.
On November 8, 2016, Californians will vote on two propositions regarding the Death Penalty. Prop 62, the Justice That Works Act, would abolish the death penalty by replacing it with Life Without Parole (LWOP). Those currently on death row would lose their rights to use the appeal process and legal habeas to get their cases reviewed. Prop 62 would also require all people serving LWOP to pay 60% of their wages to a victim’s fund. Prop 66, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act would speed up the review and decision process for death row appeals, resulting in a faster timeline for executions. It would also require more lawyers to take on capital appeals, whether or not they have experience with capital cases.
We strongly oppose the death penalty. We believe it is racist, classist and ableist, condemns many innocent people to death, and neither deters violence nor promotes rehabilitation. The Vision for Black Lives agenda accurately characterizes the death penalty as “designed to bring lynching into the courtroom” and as impacting primarily Black, Brown and poor people. We stand firmly against Prop 66.
We also strongly oppose LWOP, called “the other death penalty” by people serving this sentence. We believe LWOP is also racist, classist and ableist, condemns many innocent people to a slow living death, and neither deters violence nor promotes rehabilitation. The majority of people serving LWOP in California’s women’s prisons are survivors of abuse and were sentenced to LWOP as aiders and abettors of their abuser’s acts. We believe that LWOP relies on the intersections of racial terror and gendered violence.
For voters who oppose all forms of death sentences including LWOP, the choice between an initiative that replaces one form of death with another (Prop 62) and an initiative that speeds up executions (Prop 66) is hardly a choice at all. It is morally compromising to vote for Prop 62, which further criminalizes and demonizes our loved ones and creates a false hierarchy between forms of state-sanctioned death. However, we recognize that a decision to vote against Prop 62 is complicated by fear that Prop 66 will win. Ending the death penalty in California could be a powerful symbol for the rest of the country and represent a growing awareness of the injustices and inhumanity of incarceration and the criminal legal system as a whole. Every person who votes will need to make a difficult decision about two very problematic propositions.
We believe that both the death penalty and LWOP should be recognized as unjust and eliminated. One of our LWOP partners in prison, Amber, states: “To reassure people that LWOP is a better alternative to death is misleading.” Rather than facing executions, people with LWOP will die a slow death in prison while experiencing institutional discrimination. People with LWOP cannot participate in rehabilitative programs, cannot work jobs that pay more than 8 cents an hour, and will never be reviewed by the parole board. We agree with the Vision for Black Lives policy goal to abolish the death penalty and we believe that true abolition of the death penalty includes abolishing LWOP and all sentencing that deprive people of hope.
When the death penalty was temporarily banned from 1972 to 1976 by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling all people then on death row had their sentences overturned or converted to life. Many of these people successfully paroled and are now contributing to their communities. We believe that as a society we must choose to reject death penalties of all forms. Although we are dismayed that this option is not on the November 2016 ballot, no matter what happens on election day we will continue the fight to abolish the death penalty and LWOP!
Commentary on Propositions 62 and 66 from People Serving Life Without Parole
“There are women and men on death row who didn’t commit their crime and it would be an injustice to speed up the court process. LWOP is another death penalty sentence, a slow death. I want everyone to know that everyone on LWOP in the state of California [already] pays restitution. Funds are taken from the wages of an inmate or monies that are sent in from family and friends.” – Tammy
“If I had to choose one, I would choose Prop 62 but only because it is the lesser of two evils. Prop 66 just can’t be constitutional. As a practical matter, I hope neither passes.” – Amber
“I don’t think either [proposition] is enough. Last time death row [was abolished] inmates became lifers and some of those lifers are free today…so, why Life Without Parole? Why does society see LWOP as a suitable replacement? It’s still a death sentence. If death row becomes LWOP then LWOP should become life with a chance of parole.” – Amy
“We already work. Working a low wage like 8 cents an hour makes a tiny dent in restitution and only makes those working more dependent on the state to survive daily needs. An indigent LWOP would rely on the state or family (if still alive) for daily hygiene and basic needs. Higher restitution forces inmates to engage in criminal activity to tend to basic needs. Plus, a job is not rehabilitation. I’d rather have the requirement of self-help. Let’s rehabilitate human beings not treat them as trash.” – Amy
“If [Prop 62] passes anything [else] will fall upon deaf ears because [the lawyers] already feel victorious and like they have really assisted us. It stops the conversation because they feel like they’ve given us something. Lawyers and death penalty opponents can show they are fully engaged in the LWOP plight by working on another bill [for] LWOPs.” – Rae
“I don’t think [replacing Death Penalty with LWOP] is a solution. The ladies on death row sit there forever. LWOP…is an easier way to say death penalty.” – Sue
“I would like to see all bills pass for everyone. I believe everyone needs a second chance.” – LaToya
“Prove that this [proposition] is changing the system. This kind of change scares me. I’ve lost everything a long time ago. People that aren’t in prison need to sit down and listen. These sentences make us suicidal, make us go off the deep end. We are medicated to be manageable.” – Angel
“Yes, I would like to see the “Justice That Works Act” pass because nothing is solved by taking another life. Unless you’re in a losing situation (which I am as an LWOP) nothing is worse than knowing that this is forever. That no matter what, how hard you try and how much you’ve changed, you will still die in here…” – Boualy
“I feel that [replacing Death Penalty with LWOP] would work because it is a change and more people will rehabilitate and work towards giving back to society.” – Boualy
“[I’d like to see] legislation that actually works on rehabilitation or reform— we, as a society, are still focused on vengeance in my opinion.” – Amber
“LWOPs have never gotten any attention and I don’t see that changing. 60% restitution is just more punishment.” – Judith
To read the opinions of Prop 62 and 66 from people on death row, please visit The Campaign to End the Death Penalty.