It is a Matter of Innocence, not Economics

Examining the California SAFE Act

By: Jarvis Jay Masters

Please DON’T vote in favor of “The SAFE California Act” to end the State’s death penalty. You need to know that your vote for this act would throw away the key for all the innocent men and women on death row, and instead, sentence all prisoners on death row to spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole and without effective legal representation.

The way I see it is, behind the scenes, the “Act” has been to cast Jeannie Woodford, former prison guard, former San Quentin warden, former Director of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and current Director of Death Penalty Focus, an organization striving to abolish the death penalty, to build support for this "Act" from, among others, the prison guards union.

I am not the first to say how deeply troubling it is to see this initiative being advocated for by a woman who presided over state executions without ever offering an OPEN apology.

There is something even more troubling about depending on a flawed prison system and its employees to go ahead and make this decision, when the men and women at risk have never been asked for our two cents about matters that affect our life and death.

Despite what I have been told, I believe this “SAFE California Act” will remove the statutory appeals guaranteed under the present law. This new law will assume that all those on death row are uniformly guilty. Don’t I matter? What about the innocent men and women presently on death row, these same men and women who will no longer have the effective legal means to a genuine appeal?

If having effective legal representation has anything to do with the State’s money crunch, then, make no mistake, innocent human beings will die in prison. If California really wants to save the state money, here’s an idea: Why not eliminate the vengeance sentencing of the Three Strikes Law. Eliminating Three Strikes would close prisons and save millions of dollars every year.

Those supporting the SAFE California Act on economic grounds, that eliminating the death penalty will save money for a cash-strapped State, I have never heard them mention the moral and ethical issues of putting a fellow human being to death. You would not be casting a real vote to answer the prayers of prisoners by ending capital punishment. Let us first be human beings. No! For my self and others here on San Quentin’s death row, the way we will eliminate the death penalty is to look at what other states have done, and by working to provide more effective legal representation to show and prove there are more and more innocent men and women on death row.

It is a fact that, again and again, the greater public and it’s legislators have changed their opinions about the death penalty after discovering innocent people who were condemned to death.

Why not start proving the cases of innocent people and free them to tell their truths, tell of their years of horror, and then let the State decide: Do you morally want to have a legal system that will put to death human beings, even the innocent ones?

Jarvis Jay Masters has been incarcerated for 32 years, and is the author of Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row and That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row.



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 or