History | Clemency Status

History of the Clemency Movement in California

Clemency refers to the Governorís power to either reduce the sentence of a convicted person (known as commutation) or to issue a pardon (an honor which allows the convicted person to exercise greater rights of citizenship). The California Constitution and statutes give the Governor the power to grant clemency when justice and mercy dictate that a prisoner should be forgiven or granted an early release.

The clemency movement for battered women in prison in California began in March of 1991. Members of Convicted Women Against Abuse, a support group for battered women inside the California Institution for Women, wrote a letter to Governor Wilson asking him to review the cases of battered women who were serving time for killing their abusers.

The womenís plea for clemency galvanized advocates for battered women throughout the state, who organized into the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison (now Free Battered Women). The Coalition helped women submit detailed, individual clemency petitions. Coalition advocates spent hundreds of hours carefully investigating and preparing the petitions for each case. Twenty-two petitions were submitted by May of 1992, and another 12 petitions were submitted in November.

Thousands of people sent letters and petitions to the Governor supporting the release of these women. Free Battered Women firmly believes that every woman whom they have assisted with a petition is deserving of clemency. All these women were in abusive relationships, and were convicted of acts they took to defend themselves or their children from ongoing abuse.

The clemency effort in California is part of a national clemency movement across the country. Both Republican and Democratic governors in over 22 states have granted clemency to well over than 150 battered women who were serving time for crimes relating to their experiences of being battered.

On May 28, 1993, Gov. Wilson decided 6 of the 34 clemency petitions submitted by the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison. He commuted the sentences of two women, and denied the other four clemency requests. Even in the cases which he commuted, however, he failed to base his decisions on the fact that these women had been battered and were acting in self-defense. The Governor also denied four other petitions submitted by the Coalition. Additionally, two clemency petitioners died in prison without ever having received a response from the Governor, and another woman was paroled. At the end of Governor Wilsonís term, there were 21 clemency petitions remaining on which the Governor rendered no decision. To date, no subsequent governor has taken action on these petitions, while hundreds of survivors of domestic violence unjustly are serving time in prison.

To become involved with Free Battered Women's efforts to address the specific needs of incarcerated survivors of domestic violence, or to join our email list, email us.

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