Catholic former prison warden joins fight against death penalty

She once facilitated executions — and will now be working to stop them.

From the Los Angeles Times:

As the clock ticked past midnight and the death chamber phone refused to ring, San Quentin State Prison Warden Jeanne Woodford would calmly signal the executioners to inject a lethal dose of chemicals into the condemned man’s veins.

Reared in a Roman Catholic family, she grew up believing that only God had the right to take a life. But four times in her 30-year career in California corrections, the soft-spoken mother of five carried out executions of notorious killers, remorseful and unrepentant alike.

Woodford resigned as director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation four years ago, dismayed over state authorities’ clinging to policies such as the death penalty that she had concluded are wasteful, discriminatory and fail to make the public safer.  Now, as the state tries to restart the execution machinery after a five-year legal hiatus, Woodford has crossed to the other side of the contentious debate over capital punishment.

On Thursday, the abolitionist nonprofit Death Penalty Focus will announce Woodford’s appointment as executive director, a new role that will see her standing on the other side of the walls of San Quentin should any of the 713 death row inmates meet his or her end at the hands of the state.

“I never was in favor of the death penalty, but my experience at San Quentin allowed me to see it from all points of view. I had a duty to carry out, and I tried to do it with professionalism,” Woodford, 56, said in explaining how she had to put her personal abhorrence of execution aside to do her job. “The death penalty serves no one. It doesn’t serve the victims. It doesn’t serve prevention. It’s truly all about retribution.”

Read the rest.


  1. Mr Flapatap says:

    Good for her! I can’t imagine being in that position.

  2. naturgesetz says:

    Capital punishment may be justified in societies which lack another way of protecting themselves against killers. But for a country such as the United States, which can lock people up securely, there is IMO, no real need for it, and hence no justification for it. It’s not about what the criminal deserves, but about our own respect for human life and love of neighbor.

    I think as a society, we are far too eager to take revenge. What we should have as our top priority with criminals is correction and rehabilitation, so that they will not reoffend if and when released. Of course, incorrigible violent criminals must remain behind bars. But there is far too much of a “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality in our country. It should be “lock them up and straighten them out.

    And “victims rights” are for the most part nonsense. Criminals are prosecuted for violating the laws of the body politic. Criminal cases are “State vs. Doe,” not “Jones (the victim) vs. Doe” for a reason. If Jones wants to make Doe pay for what he did, Jones should sue Doe. The criminal trial is not about Jones, it’s about the people, and Jones should not drive the process or the sentencing.

  3. pagansister says:

    IMO, there are certain times when it is appropriate—-as I can only view it from the victim’s point of view—-the victim (in most cases) has had his/her life extinguished—many times horribly, and I wonder why should the person PROVEN (a bit easier now with DNA etc) beyond any doubt, responsible for that be allowed to be fed, clothed, housed, with access to medical help for the rest of their natural life? That is done at the tax payer’s expense. Not a popular point of view, I’m sure, but that’s how I feel. I can’t get over the victim in this situation—children at times, so not to be used at random, but with prudence—I’m for continuing it. IMO, some do not deserve to live—-ObL for one. As to the retired prison warden, who has been in charge of giving the OK—-she is more experienced naturally than I will ever be—wonder if she has thought about the victims? I’m not navie enough to think that it brings the victim back—but the Bible does say somewhere—-eye for an eye—tooth for a tooth.

  4. oldestof9 says:

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
    But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

  5. oldestof9 says:

    Sorry pagansister, I didn’t mean to send that without a comment…didn’t mean to make it seem like I was trying to beat you over the head with it…I wasn’t.

    Your quote comes from Exodus21:23-24
    “But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

    Exodus’ came from God through Moses.
    Matthew’s came from God through Jesus.

    I have never been a victim and I pray that God does not bless me with that trial, but I believe there is NO good reason for killing…not in the context of this post.

    Peace to all

  6. Don from NH says:

    Are pro life or not?…..end of discussion.

  7. Jeff Stevens says:

    One can be pro-life and be in favor of the right of the state to impose the death penalty. In fact, that is the official position of the Catholic Church.

    However, the Church also teaches us that capital punishment is only to be used when there are no other options, and in the vast majority of Christendom, there are many other options, so we should eschew the death penalty in nearly all cases.

  8. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    In my city a number of years ago a young man clerk in a clothing store was murdered during a robbery. In many states the murderer would have been executed. But never in our state. A few years later the murderer escaped by murdering a prison guard. He has since been recaptured after enjoying 10 or 15 years of freedom.
    On April 12, 2011 in South Dakota a prison guard was murdered by two inmates-one a convicted murderer- during an escape attempt.
    On Jan. 31, 2011 a woman prison guard in Washington was strangled to death in the chapel. The murderer was in for rape-kidnapping (in some states a capital crime.)
    The total of prison guards murdered this year is already 3. The annual average is 9 (most by prisoners who had previously murdered).
    Noone really seems to care about these prison workers. The story on this site –like virtually every story on the internet and in the media on the topic of capital punishment– NEVER mentions who has to pay the price in blood to keep murderers in jail. It is almost as if prison guards didn’t exist. Noone ever says –let’s pray for these corrections officers who died to keep murderers in jail and us safe.

    And DNA is always played in the media as proving mistakes were made by courts and juries. Never is DNA played as being an iron-clad guarantor of someone’s guilt.
    I mention these facts because so many well-intentioned people only get one side of the issue from the media.

  9. pagansister says:

    Thank you, Deacon JM. Bresnahan, for those numbers. Nuff said.

    Oldestof9: No apology necessary, but I appreciate it. Also thanks for Bible books that my reference was from. I know my position isn’t popular, but I simply can’t come at it anyway but the victims. We just disagree on this subject. My view has been held all of my adult life, and everytime I think about it, or it comes up in areas such as this, even with substancial arguements against it—-my mind hasn’t changed.

  10. Regarding an eye for an eye:

    Not only is it an Old Testament law that Jesus superceded, but I have heard that it really doesn’t mean what it seems to mean (revenge) if you just take it at face value and don’t know the history.

    When God taught this to Moses it was actually a revolutionary idea and was intended to temper justice with greater mercy than the norm at the time. In pagan society, horrible punishments were meted out for relatively small offenses and this was a radical new law which taught that severity of the punishment should be in line with the severity of the offense.

    Jesus took it a big step further by teaching us not to be concerned with always being treated fairly but to give more mercy than what was deserved because that mirrored God’s mercy for us, which is always more than we deserve.

  11. Without the death penalty, Christ would have never had the opportunity to rise and open the gates of heaven.

  12. oldestof9 says:

    True enough George, but do we need it any longer?

    Peace to all

  13. In the ealiest period of human existence , the Lord instituted capital punishment. ” Whoever shed’s man’s blood , by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of GOD HE made man “. ( Gen 9: 6 ). Jesus told Peter to put your sword back or you will perish by the sword. Jesus reminded Peter that killing one of His enemies would be to perish himself thru execution. When a society rejects capital punishment for the most serious crimes , including murder , it comes under the blood guiltness of GOD.
    Cain killing Abel . GOD said ; ” What have you done ? the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to ME from the ground”.
    When a nation does not administer justice , it eventually falls under GOD’S justice. Check out Israel in Ezek 7:23-24

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