This week, advocates working against domestic violence in California are meeting to urge Republican Gov. Pete Wilson to act on the clemency positions of several battered women currently in jail for killing their abusers. In 1992, the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison helped 34 women draft petitions to Wilson asking for clemency. Since then, Wilson has denied seven of the petitions, commuted one, and reduced another sentence from 15 years to life to 12 years to life. The remaining 21 petitions remain untouched after four years.
Each of the women requesting clemency had killed her batterer and exhausted legal avenues. The average sentence was 15 years to life in prison. Sue Osthoff of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women says most governors make more timely decisions and that the wait in California is “grossly unfair to the women whose lives are in the balance.” Elizabeth Leonard, author of the 1996 report, “Battered Women and Violent Self-Defense,” says that data shows increasing harshness in the sentencing of battered women. In 1979, their mean prison sentence was 4.1 years, and in 1983, it had risen to 10.2 years.