Minsker, Natasha


Natasha Minsker is death penalty policy director of the ACLU of Northern California. The People’s Budget Fix coalition includes the ACLU of Northern California, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, and Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes.

Replacing the Death Penalty: From Connecticut to California

By Natasha Minsker
SAFE California Campaign

Last week, the Connecticut Assembly voted to replace the death penalty with life without parole as maximum punishment for murder in that state. Governor Dannel Malloy has already pledged to sign the bill into law. Once he does, Connecticut will be the 17th state to turn from the death penalty in the United States.

This is great news for the people of Connecticut. They’ve plugged a major drain on state resources and have freed up funding for effective public safety solutions.

Illinois Ends the Death Penalty—a Wake-up Call for California

By Natasha Minsker
ACLU of Northern California

The end of Illinois’ death penalty comes at a time when more and more people express the view that the death penalty is ineffective, costly, and unjust. A slew of recent editorials and opinion pieces have highlighted the enormous problems with the death penalty in California in particular.  As these editorials and op eds show, it is time for California to cut this: the death penalty.

Tough on Crime Rhetoric Fails at the Polls

By Natasha Minsker
ACLU of Northern California

Across the state and across party lines, California voters on Tuesday rejected overheated “tough on crime” rhetoric choosing instead candidates with a more balanced approach to public safety and promises to efficiently use public funds in a time of dwindling dollars.

“It’s not like we live on devil’s island,” said Judge Paul Zellerbach who vowed to review all pending death penalty cases in Riverside County after his win over incumbent District Attorney Rod Pachecho. During the campaign Pacheco referred to his opponent as “Judge Marshmallow” for being “soft on crime” and frequently touted plans to “speed up” the death penalty and his hard line approach to prosecutions.

But voters seem to have been swayed more by Zellerbach’s criticism of Pacheco’s inflated office budget, overzealous prosecutions leading to low conviction rates at trial, and the reported climate of fear and intimidation in the D.A.’s office.

Time for California to Catch Up with the Death Penalty Decline

By Natasha Minsker
ACLU of Northern California

Most of the country seems to be getting it: The death penalty is expensive, risky, and often unfair. A shift from death sentences to permanent imprisonment means significant savings and eliminates the risk of executing the innocent.  That’s why a growing number of states are choosing permanent imprisonment over the death penalty. In fact in 2009, the number of new death sentences nationwide reached the lowest level since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Why, then, is California going in the wrong direction? The Golden State sent more people to death row last year than it did in the prior seven years. At the end of 2009, California’s death row was by far the largest and most costly in the United States.

A Tale of Two D.A.s

By Natasha Minsker
ACLU of Northern California

Robertson County, Texas, November, 2000. A 24 year-old single mother of four, Regina Kelly, is caught up in a drug sweep triggered by the uncorroborated word of a single police informant. Even though Kelly has no prior drug record and no drugs were found on her or in her home, District Attorney John Paschall offers her one terrible choice: plead guilty to the charges and go home a convicted felon or remain in prison, fight the charges, jeopardize custody of her daughters and risk a long prison sentence for a crime she didn’t commit.  

Need to Trim Corrections Spending, Governor? Stop Wasting Money on the Death Penalty!

By Natasha Minsker
ACLU of Northern California

If Gov. Schwarzenegger thinks he can cut $3.5 billion from state spending on corrections, he is being unrealistic and impractical.

In his state of the state address Wednesday, Gov. Schwarzenegger promised to restore the California dream by increasing funds for education and cutting funds for prisons in the budget proposal he releases today. That’s a great theory. But his only real proposal is to outsource prison administration to private companies. The state’s powerful prison guards’ union will ensure that plan fails. Meanwhile, the governor continues to slash education, health care, and other vital services.

So let’s consider something the governor can actually do right now to make a serious dent in the corrections budget: convert all 700 death sentences in California to permanent imprisonment saving the state $1 billion over the next five years.

CA Prison Agency Takes Step Towards Reform While Assembly Runs Scared

Natasha Minsker 1.jpgNatasha Minsker
Death Penalty Policy Director
ACLU of Northern California

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has been called a lot of things, but never a leader in criminal justice reform. Yet, last week the CDCR took a positive step towards dealing with our broken and excessively costly prisons system while Assembly Members continued to run in circles. It seems the Assembly has set the bar for leadership so low, even the CDCR has met it.

Wake Up CA Assembly! Who are You Punishing with this Prison Budget?

Natasha Minsker 1.jpgNatasha Minsker
Death Penalty Policy Director
ACLU of Northern California

I don’t know what they’re drinking in the Assembly in Sacramento, but it’s not the coffee we’ve been offering. Assembly members stumbled out of the chamber early Friday morning without voting on a bill that would reduce prison spending; a bill that is supported by the Republican Governor, the head of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and received an “aye” vote in the Senate on Thursday. One of the sticking points in the Assembly: the idea that we might reduce some petty thefts to misdemeanors, rather than crimes that can result in a prison sentence when charged as a felony.

The People's Budget Fix

Natasha Minsker 1.jpgNatasha Minsker
Death Penalty Policy Director
ACLU of Northern California

The “Prison Population and Budget Reduction Package” proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is like a drunk person walking home from a bar – it knows where it wants to go but oftentimes you find it stumbling off the sidewalk or turning down the wrong street. Since we believe budget cutting is no small feat and should be taken very seriously, especially in the wake of the prison riots in Chino and public safety needs, we’ve decided to pour the CDCR a strong cup of coffee and see if we can’t point the plan in a better direction.

Thousands Speak Out Against CA’s Costly and Broken Death Penalty

Natasha Minsker headshot 2007 1.jpgby Natasha Minsker
ACLU of Northern California

Last week, Californians had their first opportunity to speak out about the state’s execution procedures at an official state hearing. Thousands made their voices heard and their message was clear: it is time for California to replace its costly and broken death penalty and save the state $1 billion in the next five years.