On March 13, 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his decision to halt the execution of 737 people sentenced to death in California prisons. This moratorium on capital punishment acknowledges the significant racial, economic, gender and disability disparities in death penalty sentencing and is an important step toward justice.
California has the highest prison population in the country and has sentenced the greatest number of people to death row. Now, 737 have been granted life. It would be equally as ineffective and immoral to add that number of people to the 5,200 others who are currently serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole. Let us not sentence 737 more people to “the other death penalty.”
Our hope is that Gov. Newsom will extend the equity and justice informed lens that brought him to stop the death penalty as he moves forward examining other forms of extreme sentencing in California, including Life Without the Possibility of Parole.
Life Without Parole sentencing is increasingly being challenged and limited across the United States. Many states, including California, have passed legislation banning Life Without Parole sentences for youth.
Now it is time to move forward and eliminate this inhumane punishment for all people. LWOP sentences deny that every person has the capacity to change, grow and be rehabilitated.
While commuting a sentence does not guarantee release from prison, it does guarantee that each person will have the right to see the Parole Board in their lifetime, rather than being sentenced to a “living death,” an existence without hope. Life Without the Possibility of Parole is not a smart, safe, equitable or just alternative to the death penalty.
People of color are disproportionately sentenced to LWOP, revealing prosecutorial bias and racial discrimination. Of the nearly 200 people serving LWOP in California women’s prisons, the overwhelming majority are survivors of abuse, including intimate partner battering, childhood abuse, sexual violence and sex trafficking. Additionally, the majority are first-time “offenders” and had no record prior to being sentenced to Life Without Parole.
CURB has joined the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) in a statewide campaign called Drop LWOP, focused on ending Life Without Parole sentencing in California. We are joined in the Drop LWOP campaign by people who have had their LWOP sentence commuted, other formerly incarcerated people, family members of currently incarcerated people and other justice advocates who are ready to move further away from cruel and unusual punishment and closer to a public safety model that is moral and effective.
Life Without the Possibility of Parole has trapped thousands of people in a living death sentence. To truly abolish the death penalty, we advocate for the commutation of all 5,200-plus LWOP sentences into parole-eligible terms and for the removal of LWOP from the California penal code.
Amber Rose Howard, a formerly incarcerated journalist, activist and organizer in the movement to end mass incarceration and racialized oppression, is statewide coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) and can be reached at email@example.com. She is also an organizer for All of Us or None and chairs the board of trustees for the Social Justice Advocacy Project, Inc. This story was originally published by CURB, at http://www.curbprisonspending.org/2019/03/15/governor-newsoms-executive-order-halts-death-penalty-now-lets-drop-lwop/.