San Quentin State Prison is home to California’s last remaining death row for men, but Governor Newsom wants to dismantle and repurpose it into some sort of vaguely described “positive, healing environment.”
Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in 2019 placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California, and as such, no California prisoner has ever been executed on Newsom’s watch. Same goes for previous governor Jerry Brown. The last time a prisoner was executed in California was in 2006 under Governor Schwarzenegger, though old folks like me remember the tradition of candlelight vigils outside the prison on the evenings when executions happened, and the old “last meal” tradition where inmates got the final meal of their choice.
But there is still a death row facility for men at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, as well as one for women at the Chowchilla Central California Women's Facility. Yet San Quentin may not have a death row much longer, as the Associated Press reports that Newsom wants to dismantle San Quentin’s death row and transfer all of its inmates to other facilities across the state.
“We are starting the process of closing death row to repurpose and transform the current housing units into something innovative and anchored in rehabilitation,” California corrections department spokesperson Vicky Waters told The Associated Press.
According to the AP, they’ve already moved “116 of the state’s 673 condemned male inmates” out of San Quentin’s death row and to other facilities. In order to take a death town inmate, the facility must be a maximum security facility and have electrified fences.
And it will probably elicit howls from the so-called “tough on crime” crowd that Newsom’s budget request for remaking death row states “its goal to create a positive, healing environment that provides increased rehabilitative, educational, and health care opportunities.”
But there is some real justice aspect to making death row inmates work more through prison employment programs, in order to pay more restitution to their victims' families. While it’s not a ton of money, the AP notes that “By the end of last year, more than $49,000 in restitution had been collected” under a new pilot program with an emphasis on inmate employment.
A cynic could fairly point out that COVID-19 outbreaks have killed far more San Quentin prisoners that the death penalty ever did, so maybe that’s where they ought to focus their efforts. But this is a long-term project, one that one hopes COVID is no longer a major part of out lives when it is completed. And the death penalty could come back under some future California governor, as a 2016 measure to abolish the death penalty was pretty soundly rejected by the state’s voters.
Image: CACorrections (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) via Wikimedia Commons