Davis's Political Prisoners
By Gloria Killian, AlterNet
August 20, 2003

An abused woman who has served 16 years in prison for defending herself has a second chance to go home at last. One year ago, Gov. Davis ignored the suggestions of the sentencing judge, the victim's family, domestic violence experts and various state legislators by reversing his own Board of Prison Terms' (BPT) decision to parole Flozelle Woodmore.

In April of this year, the BPT again recommended that she be released. Davis has until mid-September to decide. If he reverses the BPT's decision a second year in a row, taxpayers will be forced to shoulder the burden of the $30,000 it costs to keep a woman in prison another year. Woodmore will remain separated from her children and family and have to endure another BPT hearing a year from now. And California voters who care about justice and fairness will have one more reason to vote yes on Governor Davis's recall.

The politicization of the parole process in California has effectively eliminated any chance for battered women or other deserving prisoners to win their freedom. Parole decisions are made by the BPT, whose members are appointed by the governor; however, the governor has the final approval of all parole grants for persons serving life sentences. Immediately following his election five years ago, Governor Davis stated that no prisoner who had killed someone would be paroled during his term unless they did so "in a pine box."

To date, the governor has largely fulfilled that promise, approving the parole grants of only six people, three of whom were battered women.

Flozelle Woodmore was incarcerated in 1987 for shooting her boyfriend, who had burned, bruised and beaten her since she was 13 years old. At the time of her second-degree murder conviction, she was 18 years old and pregnant with her second child. A first-time offender, Woodmore, now 35, is serving a life sentence for killing her batterer. The parole board believed that "battering and its effects" were a factor at the time Flozelle killed her abuser. The board commended Woodmore for earning her GED, completing dozens of educational and vocational programs and maintaining a spotless disciplinary record during much of her incarceration.

Currently, in the California prison system, approximately 600 women are incarcerated serving either life or long-term sentences for killing their abusive partners. Many of these women, like Woodmore, were convicted prior to 1992 when California law did not permit evidence of battering or abuse to be presented during a woman's defense.

This has made it very difficult for them to prove their claims of domestic abuse when they face the BPT at their parole hearings. Battered women who were convicted after 1992 were able to present evidence of abuse in varying degrees; however, they have had equal difficulty in obtaining freedom due to the governor's stance on parole. Changes in the law and the regulations governing decisions of the BPT have been implemented by the Legislature in an effort to obtain justice for the victims of domestic violence, yet Governor Davis and his appointees on the BPT have effectively blocked release for these women. Moreover, even in those cases where the BPT has done an investigation that substantiates a woman's claim of abuse and violence, Governor Davis continues to override the BPT and reverse their parole grants.

According to Christina Wilson, of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, "Voters want a governor who recognizes that denial of parole for women prisoners is not the key to public safety. Denying parole for women who pose no threat destroys families and makes a mockery of our justice system."

Ironically, Governor Davis has no hesitation in publicly declaring his support for the victims of domestic violence as evidenced by his visit to a battered women's shelter in San Francisco last week.

In California, the community of battered women's advocates have relied upon strong public support to win release of incarcerated battered women. Publicity on this topic usually results in substantial interest and concern, but it appears that Gray Davis is out of step with most Californians on this issue. One has to wonder why. It is the contention of prisoners' advocates that Gray Davis is pandering to the most powerful lobby in the state: the prison union.

Juliette Lett, one of Flozelle Woodmore's sisters, hopes that this time Davis will abide by the decision of his parole board. "When Davis reversed her parole last year, all our friends and relatives were shocked and devastated," she said. "I pray that this time he lets my baby sister come home."

Gloria Killian was released from prison in August 2002 after serving 16 years on a sentence of 32 years to life. In March 2002 the court overturned her conviction. She currently serves as the chairperson for the Action Committee for Women in Prison. Killian will be the subject of a "48 Hours" segment on Sept. 13, 8pm on CBS.

Action Committee for Women in Prison
1249 N. Holliston
Pasadena, California 91104