Gov. Newsom wants to ‘dismantle’ San Quentin State Prison’s death row

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is looking to put an end to the most populated death row in the American prison system.

The Associated Press reports Newsom as stating on Monday that California will “dismantle” San Quentin State Prison’s death row and turn it into a “positive, healing environment.” 


California is one of the 28 states that, along with the federal government, maintain death rows, or specific facilities for condemned prisoners. The one at San Quentin is the largest in the nation with almost 700 prisoners.

However, the liberal state hasn’t actually executed a condemned prisoner since 2006, and Newsom, back in 2019, placed a moratorium on executions ensuring that none will take place in the near future.

Newsom’s action on the matter is a follow-up on a ballot measure that was approved six years ago. That measure allowed condemned inmates to be housed at any state prison in California.

The measure, according to the AP, requires “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.”

It’s already underway

California has already started transferring condemned prisoners from San Quentin’s death row. It has done so as part of a two-year pilot program that began in January of 2020. So far, according to the Associated Press, 116 of California’s 673 condemned male inmates have been transferred to maximum-security prisons.

Now, California officials are looking to turn this voluntary program into a mandatory one. Additionally, Newsom is looking to turn San Quentin into a “positive, healing environment,” a goal that he is hoping to accomplish within the next two years.

Newsom, as part of his proposed budget, wants to allocate $1.5 million to finding new uses for vacant condemned housing.

California’s budget states that the money, at least in part, would go to hiring consultants to “develop options for (the) space focused on creating a positive, healing environment to provide increased rehabilitative, educational, and health care opportunities.”

Proponents vs. opponents

Those supporting the idea, such as California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Vicky Waters,claim that nothing but good can come from this program. Waters, for example, claims that the transfer of condemned inmates to general population areas will give them “more access to job opportunities, enabling them to pay court-ordered restitution to their victims when applicable.”

Those who oppose the idea, however, point to the dangers and risks associated with these transfers as well as the fact that the whole idea seems to be mainly based on making the lives of individuals condemned to death for horrific crimes better.

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