Brown Halts Construction Of New San Quentin Death Row

SAN QUENTIN (KCBS/AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday scrapped plans for a $356 million housing addition to death row at San Quentin State Prison, saying the state cannot justify the expense at a time of massive cuts to essential services.

“It would be unconscionable to earmark $356 million for a new and improved death row while making severe cuts to education and programs that serve the most vulnerable among us,” the Democratic governor said in a statement, noting that the project would have cost the state an estimated $28.5 million annually in debt service.

KCBS’ Barbara Taylor Reports:

Plans for the death row complex were approved in 2003 by former Gov. Gray Davis and continued to be developed under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The complex was designed to house 1,152 inmates, allowing California’s condemned population to grow. The state currently has fewer than 700 inmates awaiting death sentences.

But critics called the project a waste of money and said the proposed construction site on the eastern edge of San Quentin could be put to better use. Some proposed transforming the land into a transit hub that would provide a service to the region while generating money for the cash-strapped state.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat whose district includes San Quentin, called Brown’s decision “fantastic news.” He said the costs stemming from the new complex would have amounted to $1.6 billion over the next 20 years.

“”When you add it all up, I’d call this the $2 billion boondoggle,” he said in a phone interview.

KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier Comments:

Marin County filed a lawsuit in November to block the state from beginning construction on the facility.

The state already has spent $800,000 constructing a new death chamber at the nearly 160-year-old prison to comply with a federal judge’s 2006 order that California overhaul its lethal injection procedure.

Brown said the state will have to find an alternative way to address inmate housing needs.

He has proposed solving the state’s remaining $15.4 billion budget deficit through a mix of spending cuts and higher taxes.

(Copyright 2011 by CBSSan Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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