Despite California voters’ approval of the death penalty via the rejection of Proposition 34 in the Nov. 6 election, restorative justice advocates and proponents of the ban on the death penalty still see a silver lining. More information and education on the issue could help abolish the measure in the future, they said. Moreover, they welcomed the passage of Proposition 36, which will eliminate 25 years-to-life sentences to prisoners whose third felony conviction is not a serious or violent crime. But they expressed concerns over the results on Proposition 35, arguing that laws on crimes such as human trafficking should be addressed by the Legislature and not voted by the public.With nearly all votes counted by press time, Proposition 34 — which would have ended the death penalty in California — was losing by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.“There’s some disappointment, but there was an enormous gain,” said Javier Stauring, co-director of the archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice, of the results on Proposition 34.The last time Californians voted for the death penalty in 1978, the margin was around 70 percent to 30 percent. The measure was reinstated in California that year, although the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional in 1972.Data posted by the Death Penalty Information Center shows that California is the state with the largest population on death row, 724 (from a total of 3,170 in the country). Since the law was reinstated, 13 prisoners have been executed at a total cost of $4 billion, according to a recent study by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and attorney Paula Mitchell.However, surveys from academic criminological societies show 88 percent of experts rejecting the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.Stauring praised the “incredible” active participation and response of Catholics in Los Angeles County, where 54 percent voted “yes” on the initiative, and credited the state’s Catholic bishops for their endorsement of the proposal from day one.Jeanne Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a coalition of religious and community leaders, including former law enforcement agents, said the role played by Catholics in offering a “great deal of facts” and educating about Catholic social teachings was “amazing.”A former warden of San Quentin State Prison who witnessed four executions during her term, Woodford said she thought the proposition would pass since polls in previous weeks showed a favorable response. “But, sadly, facts speak for themselves,” she noted. Although media reports have said the measure could return to the ballot in 2013 or 2014, she said the coalition will meet in early December to analyze the results in order to make plans for the future. Woodford, who is Catholic, hopes to continue working with Catholics and other religious leaders in the future. She added that she was “uplifted” by the close vote, but said more financial resources are needed to get the message across about how it is harmful to victims and to the community as a whole. The “Yes on Prop 34” campaign spent about $7 million in advertising compared to $35 million spent by other campaigns, she said.In a Nov. 8 statement, California’s Catholic bishops expressed their “disappointment” that voters rejected Proposition 34, which “represents a missed opportunity for us as a people,” but said they will “continue to look for opportunities to end the use of the death penalty and work with others to be a voice for inviting society to respect human life.”And to those who “worked hard” and voted in favor of the proposition Woodford urged them to “stay engaged. There’s a lot to build on.”Risks and rewardsThere was mixed reaction on Proposition 35, which would require harsher sentences for those convicted of human trafficking crimes, but overall satisfaction that voters approved Proposition 36, which revises the three-strikes law. A California Catholic Conference Nov. 8 statement said it was “gratified that both Propositions 35 and 36 were approved by voters.”But Woodford said she foresees many lawsuits with the passage of Prop. 35. “We need to stop passing laws about crimes on the ballot and let the Legislature address those issues,” she said. “Open voting shouldn’t make situations worse.”Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson concurred, saying there are “good human trafficking laws already.” By extending the law there is a risk to “use it in unjust ways,” she said.Members of a restorative justice group who worked closely with Death Penalty Focus said one fact the public acknowledges is the broken justice system.“What works in reforming the system is dedicated work; we just have to think and be smarter in using resources,” said Stauring, who has strongly advocated for the review of the three-strikes law for the last 10 years and for the recently approved SB9, which will give opportunity for resentencing to juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he said, citing Martin Luther King, “and in the end all efforts are much bigger than the piece of legislation.”Still, the death penalty is “a very emotional topic,” said Levenson. “People are afraid of criminals and murderers and they don’t see any other way to deal with the ‘worst of the worse.’”As a former federal prosecutor with 20 years’ experience teaching about death penalty, Levenson sees flaws in the law, such as the 39 special circumstances in which it could be applied to all types of murders.“The [death penalty] system is so broken that we will never be able to fix it,” said the attorney who leads Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent, and the Capital Habeas Litigation Clinic. “It isn’t any kind of deterrent.”‘Respect for all of life’Concurring with Levenson, members of the restorative justice working group think voters approved the death penalty based on fear, lack of information and manipulation by people who support the measure.“It is the old dictum of ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ It does not take into account the Gospel message of forgiveness and respect for all of life,” said St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Annette Debs, an attorney and advocate for the death penalty abolition for the last two decades. “Jesus spoke in His parable about allowing the wheat and chaff to grow together — and that it is God who will impose the ultimate punishment, not humans.” Father Chris Ponnet, pastor of St. Camillus Center for Spiritual Care, also cited the need to emphasize respect for all life.“As we prepare for the next steps toward abolition [of the death penalty], the victim stories who seek not execution but reconciliation needs to be heard more and more,” he said. “The Church needs to continue to speak as a Respect Life Church from this consistent perspective that all violence is contrary to Gospel values.”“I think the Catholic Church's greatest contribution should be continuous and persistent teaching on the ‘seamless garment of all of life,’” added Sister Debs. “Ending the death penalty should receive the same amount of attention as abortion at the pulpit and among priests and teachers of the faith.”She encouraged Catholics to reflect on the commandment “Thou shall not kill.” She noted that while some exceptions are made in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “with respect to taking another's life as punishment, such an act is not an approved exception. As Catholics we cannot impose a punishment of death if there are lesser ways to protect people from potential violence or harm.”Future plansThe working group will meet to review results of research done on all initiatives on the ballot and to consider future plans. In the meantime, some say efforts should be done on expanding the coalition and addressing Catholics who do not attend Mass every Sunday.“I think we only took the points to traditional Catholics who support the death penalty, but we have to rethink that and gear the message to more progressive Catholics who are not in Mass regularly,” said Andrew Rivas, director of the Office of the Vicar for Clergy who worked with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ campaign to end the death penalty from 2001-2006.Others think the way the initiative was written was confusing — “Not many realized that yes meant no,” said one. Some believe the financial consequences of the death penalty should be clearly addressed, while others think the justice aspect is also an important factor as well as the need of taking it to a statewide diversity.“Another way to read the numbers is that many more are moved to support such an initiative than were inclined to prior to those efforts!” said Holy Names Sister Jo’Ann de Quattro. “As they say in Spanish: “Poco a poco!” To contact the archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice, call (213) 438-4820. For more information about the death penalty, visit{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1116/elexprop/{/gallery}