SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) — When voters passed Prop. 66 in 2016 most believed the measure would speed up state executions, they never thought it would lead to condemned prisoners being allowed to request a transfer off San Quentin’s Death Row.
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation legal director Kent Scheidegger, one of the proposition’s authors, said the measure was created because of the soaring costs of housing condemned prisoners.
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But then Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on state executions shortly after taking office and the death chamber at San Quentin was dismantled.
Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 82 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 27 have committed suicide, only 13 have been executed.
Two California inmates have been executed in Missouri and Virginia for crimes committed in those states, 14 have died from other causes and six are pending a cause of death.
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.
“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,” Scheidegger told the Associated Press. “Our response was, well, they don’t need to be housed there.”
In their haste to empty San Quentin’s death row, it appears the proposition’s authors didn’t quite define how those cells would be emptied.
A nonpartisan legislative analyst looking at the measure back in 2016 found that transfers could also save money because of increased security costs at San Quentin.
Inmates on death row are housed one to a cell and generally are handcuffed and escorted by one or two correctional officers whenever they are outside their cells.
At the other prisons, they’ll be housed with non-condemned inmates and participate in programs and other activities.
Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine told the AP it was ironic that death penalty supporters included a rehabilitation provision in their bid to shrink the death row population.
“That they also voted to allow rehabilitation services is poetic justice and reveals just how broken and beyond repair the death penalty is,” he said.
Corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said his department was merely “carrying out this part of the law” when asked about the transfers.
The 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, Thornton said.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.