Thursday, May 12, 2011

Former San Quentin Warden Turned Death Penalty Abolitionist

Check out this fascinating and informative Los Angeles Times profile of Jeanne Woodford. She presided over four executions in her capacity as San Quentin's warden, but will now direct Death Penalty Focus, a California-based abolitionist organization.

While the appeal of someone like Woodford joining the anti-death penalty cause is obvious, it also raises some important questions. Last year, several prominent abolitionists signed an open letter to the World Congress Against the Death Penalty, encouraging the organization to mute its vocal support for Pennsylvania death row inmate and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Their rational? Supporting Abu Jamal jeopardized their attempts to cultivate relationships with conservative, mostly pro-death penalty organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police. Because Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer, a crime which many individuals believe he did not commit, the FOP has been outspoken for three decades in their desire to see Abu-Jamal put to death. By abandoning Abu-Jamal, these abolitionists wager, they stand a better chance of turning these organizations away from endorsing capital punishment on pragmatic grounds like cost, innocence, etc.

Thus, the courting of law enforcement by the anti-death penalty movement may represent a double-edged sword. On one hand, such counterintuitive support from a community with generally high public credibility is certainly appealing. However, at what cost to our movement's principles do we seek such alliances?

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