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California will soon let 700 death row inmates move from San Quentin


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More than 700 inmates on California’s death row in San Quentin will soon have the opportunity to transfer to eight other prisons in the state, where they could mingle with general population and access rehabilitation and work programs.

The change is the unintended result of a 2016 ballot initiative that sought to speed executions, a plan that came to naught when Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom issued a death penalty moratorium soon after taking office.

The pending transfer of death row inmates from notorious San Quentin has outraged victim’s rights advocates, with one former district attorney calling it a ‘slap to the face.’

California has the largest death row in the country, with at least 750 condemned inmates, but has not carried out an execution since 2006. 

Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom issued a death penalty moratorium in March 2019 (above) and now death row inmates will soon be able to transfer from San Quentin

Currently, 728 male inmates are housed on San Quentin's (above) death row and another 22 women condemned to die are housed at the Central California Women's Facility

Currently, 728 male inmates are housed on San Quentin’s (above) death row and another 22 women condemned to die are housed at the Central California Women’s Facility

Police officers stand behind the gates of San Quentin Prison in a file photo

Police officers stand behind the gates of San Quentin Prison in a file photo

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 82 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 27 have committed suicide, only 13 have been executed.

Currently, 728 male inmates are housed on San Quentin’s death row and another 22 women condemned to die are housed at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. 

Despite the state’s reluctance to execute condemned inmates, California voters have consistently supported the death penalty.

In 2016, California voters rejected Proposition 62, a measure to eliminate the death penalty, with 46.9 percent voting to end executions and 53 percent voting to keep it. 

The same year, voters narrowly approved Proposition 66, a separate measure to speed up executions. 

But in addition to speeding the rules for appeals and other measures to hasten executions, Proposition 66 also included a provision allowing condemned inmates to be housed at other prisons than San Quentin until their execution date is set.

The witness gallery inside the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in a file photo

The witness gallery inside the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in a file photo

California has the largest death row in the country, with at least 750 condemned inmates, but has not carried out an execution since 2006

California has the largest death row in the country, with at least 750 condemned inmates, but has not carried out an execution since 2006

‘One of the arguments made against the death penalty was it cost too much to house them at San Quentin, which is an antique facility. Our response was, well, they don’t need to be housed there,’ said Criminal Justice Legal Foundation legal director Kent Scheidegger, who helped write Proposition 66. 

‘It was more to defuse one of the contrary arguments,’ he said, that to offer any perks to condemned inmates. 

Now, the change introduced by Proposition 66 will be used to allow condemned inmates to move to prisons with rehabilitation and work programs — something Scheidegger says the authors never intended. 

‘Unless they get pardoned, they’re not going to be seeing the outside of the prison walls anyway,’ he said.

Former San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos, co-chairman of the committee that backed Proposition 66, expressed fury at Newsom’s plan. 

Victims’ families ‘suffer every day,’ Ramos said. ‘Now to say that this murderer is going to be allowed to go to a rehabilitation program and be treated like any other low-grade inmate is a slap to the face.’ 

A condemned inmate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison. More than 700 condemned inmates on the nation's largest death row will soon have a chance to voluntary transfer from San Quentin to one of eight other state prison

A condemned inmate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison. More than 700 condemned inmates on the nation’s largest death row will soon have a chance to voluntary transfer from San Quentin to one of eight other state prison 

Ramos also expressed worries about the security implications of allowing inmates facing execution into general prison populations.

Death row inmates are locked in solitary cells, and are handcuffed and escorted by at least two corrections officers whenever they are moved from their cell.

Security precautions in general population are typically much laxer. 

‘These killers have nothing to lose!’ Ramos said in a tweet, saying that corrections officers ‘will face another danger.’ 

Crime Victims Alliance director Christine Ward accused Newsom of breaking what she said was his promise to crime victims after his moratorium to ‘take no further action regarding the status of condemned inmates.’

She said the move endangers prison employees, other inmates and the public because ‘condemned inmates have nothing to lose if they commit acts of violence.’

The Corrections Department hopes to start the program within 60 days, but can’t say when the first inmate will move or how many will participate, because it’s voluntary, a spokeswoman said. 

America’s oldest prison:  166 years of incarcerations in San Quentin

The history of the infamous correctional facility goes back to the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, sparking the California Gold Rush. 

The gold meant a great influx of new people to the region, among them some unsavory characters who would eventually require incarceration.

Before a permanent facility was erected, convicts were housed aboard prison ships such as the 268-ton wooden vessel named The Waban, anchored in San Francisco Bay and outfitted to hold 30 inmates.

View of San Quentin State Prison looking south east, Marin County, California, April 20, 1910

View of San Quentin State Prison looking south east, Marin County, California, April 20, 1910

Prison guard on his horse near San Quentin State Prison, circa 1913

Prison guard on his horse near San Quentin State Prison, circa 1913

Due to overcrowding and frequent escapes, however, state officials decided to create a more permanent facility. For that purpose, they chose Point San Quentin.

Construction on what was to become the nation’s oldest prison began in 1852 using convicts and ended in 1854. 

The first 60 inmates moved into the new facility on July 14 of that year. 

Today, San Quentin occupies 275 acres of prime waterfront real estate overlooking the north side of San Francisco Bay, valued in a 2001 study at between $129million and $664million.

Until 1932, the prison housed both male and female inmates, but since then it has been male-only.

A photo illustration from August 1, 1937 shows San Quentin's newly installed gas chamber

A photo illustration from August 1, 1937 shows San Quentin’s newly installed gas chamber

Truman Capote interviewing prisoners in San Quentin for a 1973 television special

Truman Capote interviewing prisoners in San Quentin for a 1973 television special

This is an undated photo of the old San Quention death chamber. The gas chamber was converted for use in lethal injections after 1996

This is an undated photo of the old San Quention death chamber. The gas chamber was converted for use in lethal injections after 1996

Over the course of its 160-year history, the prison has housed some of the nation’s most infamous criminals, among then stagecoach robber Black Bart, serial killer Charles Manson and  Sirhan Sirhan, who was sent to San Quentin’s death row for assassinating Robert F. Kennedy.

San Quentin is the home of California’s death row for males, and has an imposing gas chamber. However, since 1996, executions have only been carried out by lethal injection.

In March, after Newsom announced the death penalty moratorium, corrections officers at San Quentin disassembled the execution chamber used for lethal injection.  

NOTABLE INMATES ON CALIFORNIA’S DEATH ROW

California Gov Gavin Newsom is placing a moratorium on executions in the state. Here are some notable inmates out of more than 700 people on the nation’s largest death row: 

Rodney James Alcala

Prosecutors said Alcala, now 75, stalked women like prey and took earrings as trophies from some of his victims after they died. He was sentenced to death in 2010 for five murders in California between 1977 and 1979. In 2013, he received an additional 25 years to life after pleading guilty to two homicides in New York. Investigators say his true victim count many never be known.

Rodney James Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for five murders in California between 1977 and 1979

Rodney James Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for five murders in California between 1977 and 1979

Vincent Brothers

A former high school vice principal, Brothers was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law. Prosecutors said he attempted to create an alibi by flying to Columbus, Ohio, with the pretext of visiting his brother. He then drove his rental car to Bakersfield, California, to carry out the killings and returned to Ohio. Now 57, he’s been on San Quentin’s death row since 2007.

Vincent Brothers (above in 2003) was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law

Vincent Brothers (above in 2003) was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law

Richard Allen Davis

Now 64, Davis has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma, California. The case helped gain support for California’s ‘three-strikes law’ for repeat offenders.

Richard Allen Davis (above in 1993) has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas

Richard Allen Davis (above in 1993) has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas

Lonnie Franklin

A serial killer nicknamed the ‘Grim Sleeper,’ Franklin was convicted in 2016 for killing nine women and a teenage girl in Los Angeles dating back to the 1980s. He was linked at trial to 14 slayings, including four women he wasn’t charged with killing. Police have said Franklin, now 66, may have had as many as 25 victims.

Lonnie Franklin Jr (above in 2016), a convicted serial killer known as the 'Grim Sleeper', was sentenced to death for 10 Los Angeles murders that spanned decades

Lonnie Franklin Jr (above in 2016), a convicted serial killer known as the ‘Grim Sleeper’, was sentenced to death for 10 Los Angeles murders that spanned decades

Charles Ng

Ng was convicted along with an accomplice, Leonard Lake, of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980s. Lake killed himself in 1985. Ng’s prosecution cost California approximately $20million, at the time the most expensive trial in state history. Now 58, Ng is housed at San Quentin.

Charles Ng was convicted of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980

Charles Ng was convicted of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980 

Scott Peterson

After he reported his pregnant wife missing on Christmas Eve 2002, police pursued nearly 10,000 tips, and looked at parolees and convicted sex offenders as possible suspects. Ultimately Scott Peterson was arrested and convicted of the first-degree murder of Laci Peterson and the second-degree murder of their unborn son, Conner, in Modesto, California. Now 46, he’s housed at San Quentin.

Scott Peterson (above in 2005) was sentenced to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci

Scott Peterson (above in 2005) was sentenced to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci

Angelina Rodriguez

Her husband’s death was initially ruled undetermined, which meant Angelina Rodriguez was ineligible for a payout on his life insurance. After she pushed for more testing, it was determined that Frank Rodriguez died from antifreeze poisoning. Angelina Rodriguez was arrested for his murder and convicted in 2004. She was also accused – but never convicted – of killing her infant daughter in 1993. 

Angelina Rodriguez was convicted of killing her husband in 2004

Angelina Rodriguez was convicted of killing her husband in 2004

Reporting by The Associated Press 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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