SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who three years in the past positioned a moratorium on executions, now could be shifting to dismantle the United States’ largest death row by shifting all condemned inmates to different prisons inside two years.
The aim is to flip the part at San Quentin State Prison right into a “positive, healing environment.”
“We are starting the process of closing death row to repurpose and transform the current housing units into something innovative and anchored in rehabilitation,” corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters told The Associated Press.
California, which last carried out an execution in 2006, is one of 28 states that maintain death rows, along with the U.S. government, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. While other states like Illinois have abolished executions, California is merging its condemned inmates into the general prison population with no expectation that any will face execution anytime in the near future.
Oregon similarly transferred its much smaller condemned population to other inmate housing two years ago.
Newsom, a Democrat, imposed a moratorium on executions in 2019 and shut down the state’s execution chamber at San Quentin, north of San Francisco. Now his administration is turning on its head a 2016 voter-approved initiative intended to speed up executions by capitalizing on one provision that allowed inmates to be moved off death row.
Corrections officials began a voluntary two-year pilot program in January 2020 that as of Friday had moved 116 of the state’s 673 condemned male inmates to one of seven other prisons that have maximum security facilities and are surrounded by lethal electrified fences.
They intend to submit permanent proposed regulations within weeks that would make the transfers mandatory and “allow for the repurposing of all death row housing units,” Waters said.
The ballot measure approved six years ago also required condemned inmates to participate in prison jobs, with 70% of the money going for restitution to their victims, and corrections officials said that’s their goal with the transfers. By the end of last year, more than $49,000 in restitution had been collected under the pilot program.
Newsom’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 seeks $1.5 million to find new uses for the vacant condemned housing.
It notes that death row and its supporting activities are in the same area as facilities used for rehabilitation programs for medium-security San Quentin inmates. The money would be used to hire a consultant to “develop options for (the) space focused on creating a positive, healing environment to provide increased rehabilitative, educational and health care opportunities.”
San Quentin’s never-used $853,000 execution chamber is in a separate area of the prison, and there are no plans to “repurpose” that area, Waters said.
California voters supported the death penalty in 2012 and 2016, though legislative opponents have said they hope to put the issue before voters again in coming years. An advisory panel to Newsom and lawmakers, the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, in November became the latest to recommend repealing the death penalty, calling it “beyond repair.”
Under the state’s switch program, condemned inmates moved to different prisons will be housed in solitary or disciplinary confinement if officers resolve they can’t be safely housed with others, though they’re supposed to be interspersed with different inmates. Inmates on death row are housed one to a cell, however the transferred inmates will be housed with others if it’s deemed protected.
“There have been no safety concerns, and no major disciplinary issues have occurred,” Waters stated.
When it comes to jobs and different rehabilitation actions, condemned inmates exterior death row are handled equally to inmates serving sentences of life with out parole. That contains a wide range of jobs akin to upkeep and administrative duties, in accordance to jail officers.
The condemned inmates are counted extra usually and are always supervised throughout actions, officers stated.
Under present guidelines, condemned inmates will be transferred except they’re in restricted housing for disciplinary causes, have pending prices, or have been discovered responsible of sure disciplinary offenses prior to now 5 years.
But in addition they are “carefully screened to determine whether they can safely participate in the program,” in accordance to the division. That contains issues like every inmate’s safety degree, medical, psychiatric and different wants, their conduct, security issues and notoriety.
Female condemned inmates are housed on the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. They can switch to much less restrictive housing inside the identical jail, and eight of the 21 have executed so.
The males will be moved to California Correctional Institution; California Medical Facility; California State Prison, Corcoran; Centinela State Prison; Kern Valley State Prison; Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility; or Salinas Valley State Prison.