Senator Dodd Reflects on Visit to Donovan State Prison

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Senator Bill Dodd was among a huge delegation of elected officials and others who participated in a special event with Smart Justice California to visit the Donovan State Prison.

Dodd described one case where 35 to 40 years after the murder of a guy’s brother, the victim’s brother wrote in April to the man who killed his brother.  It was a brutal murder, where the man hit him over the head the head some 17 times with an iron rod.

“They couldn’t even distinguish his facial features,” Dodd explained.  The bother wrote the man in prison after decades, and asked him all sorts of questions.

The man responded, and “took full responsibility,” Dodd explained,  “This dialogue back and forth led to a meeting of the victim’s brother and the perpetrator.”  He said, “I had dinner with both of them, and their wives and my wife, Senator Ben Allen, Senator Josh Newman.

“It just gives me faith,” Dodd said.  “The fact that after so much time, there can be forgiveness.”

Senator Dodd said one thing that really struck him was how “most if not all the prisoners reacted to Senator Loni Hancock’s SB 260 from back in 2013, which in essence gave lifers some hope if they committed that crime… before the age of 25, because a male’s brain is not fully formed.”

Senator Dodd explained such a bill “gives them some hope.  Even the prison guards and the management has seen this, where people that are in for a long, long time, when they know that there’s no way of ever getting out, they’re not really interested in education, they’re not ready to admit or atone for their mistakes.”

He believes that education, whether it’s a university degree or career technical education, “is really moving the needle in terms of making a more harmonious (atmosphere).  Not everybody’s bought in, because not everybody is ready to buy in.”

He said, “But by and large, it was very interesting to me how a really large segment of the prison population has bought into this. And they meet all the time and they hold each other accountable.”

He said, “I came away just really impressed.”

Dodd explained this is his third visit to a prison—previously he had visited some early in his term, in his district.  But he saw a huge change over that time with the mentality of people in prison, now that many have an opportunity to get out that they might not have previously.

“I think what surprised me the most is how up they are mentally on current events, on what’s going on in our world, in our state, in our country,” he said.  “They have resources there in the prisons and this segment of the population that we spent a lot of time with, are certainly people that are working on or most have gotten their AA degrees and are working on a four-year degree.”

He explained, “I think it’s probably common sense that they would want to get out, but they know the answer to getting out is not pulling the wool over somebody’s eyes.  That just doesn’t happen.”

He said, “I don’t think we’ve had a lot of problems with CDCR in terms of the type of prisoners we’ve been letting out over the last few years, through either the commutations.”

But he said while there are problems with the court system, the trip showed him there are groups of people “who are really working hard on it and really understand what’s in front of them.”

Asked if he saw legislation coming out of this, he noted that at this point in the session, their docket is full.

But he did say, “If there was something that Smart Justice brought to me, I would certainly be very open to wanting to make sure that our justice system does really what it needs to do.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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