Newsom has a nebulous plan to transform San Quentin State Prison into a correctional facility that’s more like a college campus, but the $360 million price tag and lack of transparency is making some people wary.  

California’s oldest correctional facility, Marin County’s San Quentin State Prison, was once notorious for having the state’s only death row for male prisoners. In recent years, it’s been more notorious for COVID outbreaks, often the result of sloppy protocols. But Governor Gavin Newsom has made it a mission to reform the place, and have something to show for these efforts before he’s termed out in January 2027.

And as the Associated Press explains, his latest iteration of this is a $360 million plan to demolish what used to be a furniture factory (yes, the prisoners built furniture as a work task), and turn it into something more akin to a college campus. In the AP’s words, it would come “with a student union, classrooms and possibly a coffee shop.”

In Newsom’s defense, some early pilot programs have had success, like a coding class the prison has offered.

“I got introduced to technology — never really grew up with a computer,” parolee Jason Jones told NPR. “I didn't even know what coding was before I actually get into class. And next thing I know, three weeks before I go home, I'm actually signing a contract with a tech company. It's the first job I ever had in my life.”

But what's rankling both Newsom’s supporters and critics is that he’s done a complete end-around on the state legislature. Newsom is pulling the whole blue-ribbon committee thing, in the form of a 21-person advisory panel. That panel has no oversight, no public reporting requirements, and of course, gets $360 million to play with while the state’s running a nearly $32 billion deficit.

"Spending hundreds of millions on new prison infrastructure is a step in the wrong direction," Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) deputy director Brian Kaneda told the AP. "If there's no public accessibility to the San Quentin advisory council meetings, that's a really significant concern that I think people aren't paying enough attention to."

The AP is at last trying to pay attention, and asked what this advisory panel is recommending. Newsom’s office said they’d provide more information before Newsom presents next year’s budget, which is not until January 2024.

Related: Newsom Angling to Close San Quentin Death Row, Make It a ‘Healing Environment’ [SFist]

Image: Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons