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California to transform prison with death row legacy

California Governor San Quentin
Posted at 5:27 PM, Mar 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-16 20:27:08-04

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to transform a state lockup that is home to the nation's largest number of death row inmates into a facility where prisoners can receive education, training and rehabilitation.

Newsom's office announced the new plans Thursday for San Quentin State Prison, which will be renamed the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center. The governor plans to visit the prison on the shore of the San Francisco Bay on Friday as part of a statewide policy tour.

"Today, we take the next step in our pursuit of true rehabilitation, justice, and safer communities through this evidenced-backed investment, creating a new model for safety and justice — the California Model — that will lead the nation," Newsom said in a statement.

The plan marks a massive shift in how the state would shape the fates of those behind bars.

Newsom announced a moratorium on executions in 2019, but nearly 700 inmates remain on death row today.

Death sentences in California have declined over the years, and the state last executed an inmate in 2006.

A group made up public safety experts, crime victims and formerly incarcerated people will advise the state on the transformation. Newsom is allocating $20 million to launch the plan.

Inmates on death row will not have their sentences changed, but they will be moved to other prisons, Newsom's office said.

San Quentin is California's oldest correctional institution. It houses one maximum-security cell block, a medium-security dorm and a minimum-security firehouse. It historically housed the state's only gas chamber, though Newsom had it dismantled several years ago. Most male death row inmates are still in San Quentin, but some have already been transferred.

The prison has housed high-profile criminals such as cult leader Charles Manson, convicted murderers and serial killers, and was the site of violent uprisings in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the prison in upscale Marin County north of San Francisco has also been home to some of the most innovative inmate programs in the country, reflecting the politically liberal beliefs of the Bay Area.

It houses Mount Tamalpais College, the first accredited junior college in the country based entirely behind bars. The school offers inmates classes in literature, astronomy, U.S. government and others to earn an Associate of Arts degree.

The college's $5 million annual budget is funded by private donations with volunteer faculty from top nearby universities, including Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley.


Sophie Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on Twitter: @sophieadanna