It does nothing to address issues that drive crime

Examining the California SAFE Act


By: Steve Champion

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty sent a questionnaire in to over 200 California death row prisoners seeking their thoughts about the SAFE Act. Obviously, they will be the most affected by the legislation and their voices have been mostly left out of the conversation. Below is one of the many responses we received.  

I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I am a former gang member. I’ve been incarcerated for over 30 years—twenty-nine of those years and counting have been spent on San Quentin’s death row.

Since my captivity, I’ve become a writer and author. I’ve co-authored the book “The Scared Eye of the Falcon” and wrote my death row memoir “Dead to Deliverance”. I continue to read, write, and speak out against injustice whenever it exists.

In response to the queries I will try to condense my answers. 

Are you in favor of the SAFE act? Why or why not?

For many death row prisoners, especially those who have exhausted their appeals and those who really have nothing to appeal, SAFE would be very helpful. On that important portion of the bill I’d support, but reject the other respects of it because it does nothing to address the issues that drive crimes. 

SAFE abolishes the death penalty, but replaces it with the sentence of life without the possibility of parole, which many have called an in-house death sentence.  Because SAFE is a ballot measure, it is much harder to revoke than a bill passed by the legislature, which would likely keep LWOP on the books for years to come. What do you think of the LWOP sentence?

I am opposed to the LWOP sentence. It’s not just an in-house death sentence, but it cancels restorative justice and precludes redemption. You cannot freeze a person in time at the age of 20 and declare they are the same person at 45.  

SAFE creates a large fund of money that will go directly to police and prosecutors, supposedly to help prevent crime and promote public safety. Do you agree with that? Are there other ways you’d like to see that money spent?

I profoundly deprecate how the large fund of money will go directly to police and prosecutors if SAFE is passed. The money can be spent on education—schools are being closed and the University system is lacking funds, community organizations that deal with domestic violence, gang prevention, caretakers, etc. 

The large fund of money brought up in the last question would come directly from money that is saved from cuts to the appeals process for death row prisoners, effectively slamming the courthouse door shut for many of you locked up unjustly. What would this mean for your case?

I would have to pursue the appeal process myself or try to elicit the help of an attorney.

With death sentences on the decline, the abolition of the death penalty in five states in the last five years, and so much public scrutiny as more and more glaring injustices emerge; the United States seems to be moving away from the death penalty. What do you think abolition of the death penalty in California, which has the largest death row, would mean for the prospects of abolishing the death penalty everywhere in the U.S.?

The taste for the death penalty has been declining. California would add to that momentum, I believe, quickly!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I think activists opposed to the death penalty must create a coherent theory of activism. If it is state legislators who are passing bills to reinstate the death penalty, three strikes laws, and other harsh laws, than they are the ones who need to be lobbied. We can achieve this if our communities are organized.

 

Steve Champion is on death row in California. You can write to Steve at:

#C 58001

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, California 94974

 


In November, the people of California will be voting on a ballot measure that could repeal the death penalty there. Since it won a place on the ballot, the SAFE Act has been a topic of discussion and important debate among criminal justice reform activists.

  The measure has the potential to take over 700 people off death row in one of the largest death penalty states - yet the "tough on crime" proposals at the heart of the SAFE Act are leading a growing number of activists to turn against it.

0ver the next several months the Campaign to End the Death Penalty will be providing a forum about this debate on our website through a new blog titled "Examining the Califonia SAFE Act."

This blog project aims to collect various news articles, editorials and especially prisoners writing about this initiative.  We would love folks to send our way any articles or writings that you think will add to this discussion.  Contact us at randi@nodeathpenalty.org or lily@nodeathpenalty.org