Editorial: Death Penalty is Dead Wrong

There are eight women living on California’s death row at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Because there are so few women, they are usually forgotten in discussions of the death penalty. Even if there is a huge media flurry when a woman is convicted of a capital crime, once that woman is sentenced and sent to CCWF, she becomes invisible.
Two of the women on death row are African-American; two are Latina; the other four are white. They range in age from mid-twenties to late-fifties. For many of them, this is their first conviction. Most of them say that they were battered at some time in their lives prior to their incarceration. Many of them have no family outside of the prison. They have built a close-knit community amongst themselves at CCWF. All of their cases are presently on appeal and none of them is expected to be executed in the near future. They are: Rosie Alfaro, Celeste Carrington, Cynthia Coffman, Kerry Dalton, Maureen McDermott, Mary Ellen Samuels, Catherine Thompson and Caroline Young.
There are over 3,000 people on death row in the United States today, 482 of them in California. The U.S. continues to execute people at an increasing rate and expands the death penalty to include more crimes while cutting off death row prisoners’ access to legal representation and appeals. This country stands alone among all of the other so-called developed nations in using the death penalty. We in CCWP believe that the death penalty is barbaric – that taking a life in exchange for a life makes no sense.
The racism so present in every aspect of our society is reflected as well in who gets sentenced to death, and for killing whom. The chances of a black person being executed for murdering a white person are four times greater than those of a white person being executed for murdering a black person.
CCWP was formed in response to the abysmal medical care that women prisoners receive. In the past three months, two women died at CCWF after begging for medical care and one woman almost drowned in the bathtub in the infirmary. Women are receiving the death penalty without even being sentenced!
As women, we experience this country as steeped in violence. We face violence every day as we walk down the street. But the call for “law and order” is no solution. It has meant “force without justice” – the uncontrolled incarceration of hundreds of thousands of human beings 1-1/2 million people in the United States this year. State sponsored violence – from the murder of more than 700 people by police in 1996 to the execution of over 400 people in US prisons since 1973 –
has had the most far-reaching effect on us.
The case of Mumia Abu Jamal, an African-American political prisoner on death row in Pennsylvania, has brought the issue of the death penalty into the forefront of progressive politics around the world. We totally support Mumia in his struggle for freedom. And we know that the struggle for Mumia’s freedom is not for him alone. It is also for the other 3,000 on death row across the country, including the eight women here in California. We believe that we need to increase the visibility of the women on death row as part of the battle against the death penalty, and so this month we join with hundreds of women around the Bay Area in a women’s contingent against the death penalty and to free Mumia Abu Jamal. We ask all supporters of women’s rights and struggles to join with us.