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California Death Penalty SAFE

One year ago, I helped launch the SAFE California Campaign -- now known as Proposition 34 -- to replace California's broken death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Today, the Yes on 34 Campaign has grown into a statewide powerhouse with the support of some of the most respected organizations and leaders in the state.

Simply put: Californians recognize that replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole means justice that works for everyone.

When we started a year ago, SAFE California was just a handful of former law enforcement professionals teamed up with innocent men and women who had been wrongfully convicted and brave family members of murder victims who understood that the death penalty is broken beyond repair. My own experience was in the Department of Corrections -- over a 30-year career I rose through the ranks from a Corrections Officer working in California prisons to warden of death row overseeing executions, to eventually becoming director California's entire prison system.

In the early days of this campaign, I was joined by people like Gil Garcetti, former District Attorney from LA County, John Van de Kamp, former Attorney General and also a former DA from LA, and LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge from Santa Clara County. Between us we've seen every side of the criminal justice system in California. All of us had seen the risk of executing an innocent person and witnessed hundreds of millions of dollars spent on lawyers and appeals trying to prevent that risk.

We stood alongside amazing men and women who had proven their innocence after spending decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. People like Franky Carrillo and Obie Anthony who were given life sentences for murders they did not commit but were able to prove their innocence and had been freed from prison only months before.

And from the beginning, family members of murder victims have supported this campaign. People like Judy Kerr whose brother was brutally tortured and murdered and Lorrain Taylor whose twin sons were gunned down in a random act of violence. Judy and Lorrain support Prop 34 because they know first hand about the crisis of unsolved murders: the killers who took their loved ones have never been caught.

We came together from diverse perspectives with a common goal: replace the death penalty with justice that works for all Californians. Many people doubted we would even make it onto the ballot. We proved them wrong, submitting 800,000 signatures to qualify, thanks to the help of 5,000 volunteers.

Over the last year, that small group of supporters who had seen California's broken death penalty first-hand has grown to include powerful voices from all across California. The California Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters of California, the California Branch of the NAACP, the California Labor Federation, and the California Nurses Association are just a handful of the more than 1,200 organizations and community leaders to endorse Proposition 34.

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Support for Prop 34 continues to grow because people understand that California's death penalty is broken beyond repair. California has only executed 1% of those sentenced to death in 34 years. The rest wait decades on death row in private cells with the best lawyers taxpayer money can buy, in conditions better than those of inmates for serving life without parole. They don't work and they don't pay into California's Victims Compensation Fund.

Proposition 34 will change all that. By replacing the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole, Yes on 34 ensures that convicted killers stay behind bars forever with no hope of ever getting out. Proposition 34 makes convicted killers work in prison and pay restitution for victims' families' compensation -- as they should.

Proposition 34 will also save California hundreds of millions of dollars. The official, independent analysis of Proposition 34 says it will save $130 million each year for many years to come. We need that money for our kids schools and to keep our families safe.

As a law enforcement professional and as a mother, the most important question to me is how can we keep California communities safe? I was shocked to learn that 46% of homicides and 56% of reported rapes go unsolved every year. That's why Prop 34 creates the SAFE California Fund. $100 million over four years -- money that currently pays for death row appeal cases -- will be directed to local law enforcement to solve more rapes and murders. That means our public safety dollars can go where they are needed most, to bringing justice to all victims of violent crime and get dangerous people off our streets.

But of all the reasons to support YES on 34, the one that stays with me with the most is the risk of executing an innocent person. I'm reminded of this risk every time I see one of the wrongly convicted innocent men and women I work with. As long as we have the death penalty, we risk making the horrifying mistake of taking an innocent person's life.

jeanne woodford

Jeanne Woodford

So here we are, 366 days down. It took the work of thousands to get here and we are proud of the strong campaign we have built. But its time to get our heads in the game and look ahead: just 68 more days until the election on November 6. That's 68 days to educate every California voter about the realities of California's broken death penalty and the best way to ensure justice that works for everyone.

Jeanne Woodford

Republished from Huffington Post with the author's permission.

Posted: Thursday, 30 August 2012