Soapbox

California prison guards have good reasons to fear death penalty repeal

A condemned inmate is led out of his cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Proposition 62 would repeal California’s death penalty and replace it with life without parole.
A condemned inmate is led out of his cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Proposition 62 would repeal California’s death penalty and replace it with life without parole. The Associated Press

As correctional peace officers working inside California prisons, we take Proposition 62 very personally, because it directly impacts our safety and the safety of the inmates we oversee.

Proposition 62 would repeal California’s death penalty law, putting inmates and correctional officers at serious risk. The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board supports it (“End the illusion: Abolish the death penalty,” Endorsement, Oct. 9).

But without the death penalty, what would deter an inmate serving life without the possibility of parole from killing again inside prison? Another life sentence?

In fact, the death penalty is our last line of defense, the one deterrent left that could give pause to an inmate with a murderous history who’s thinking about attacking a correctional officer or fellow inmate.

California’s maximum-security prisons can be dangerous places. Most inmates have been convicted of numerous felony offenses. Many are hardened criminals with gang affiliations and long histories of serious and violent crime. Most want to serve their time without incident. But for those who don’t, we need the death penalty.

Correctional officers are vastly outnumbered. It’s sobering to walk across a prison yard filled with hundreds of inmates, when all you carry is a baton and a can of pepper spray. On average, nine correctional officers are assaulted every day. Without the death penalty, this number would likely soar.

The safety of inmates is also jeopardized by Proposition 62. They are also in an unpredictable environment in which gang rivalries, anger-management issues and growing mental illness are constant threats. They live with inmates who have committed horrific crimes of violence, including child murderers, sexual killers and serial killers who tortured their victims without mercy. Take away the death penalty and the final restraint on them has been lifted.

For those of us on the inside, this isn’t a philosophical debate over whether the death penalty is morally justified, or a matter of retribution. In our world, it’s a practical matter of survival. The death penalty helps keep us safe.

Chuck Alexander is president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. He can be contacted at charles.alexander@ccpoa.org.

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