Former San Quentin inmate weighs in on Gov. Newsom's plan to transform the max security prison

King now works to pass legislation to improve prisons across the country.

Karina Nova Image
Saturday, March 18, 2023
Former San Quentin inmate on Gov. Newsom's plan to transform prison
James King is a former San Quentin inmate who says he commends Governor Newsom's plan on improving California's prisons.

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KGO) -- James King is a former San Quentin inmate and the co-director of programs for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

He told ABC7's Karina Nova that he commends Governor Gavin Newsom for focusing on improving our prisons.

"I love the governor's, that he thinks about people in prison, that he's thinking about to make safer communities. I've been a really big fan of his work to close prison yards in enclosed prisons as well as dismantling the infrastructure for California's death row."

But King, who served time at San Quentin from 2013 to 2019, says the culture inside the prisons needs to change, specifically with prison guards and their view of inmates.

RELATED: Newsom plans to transform San Quentin, home to death row, into rehabilitation center

California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to transform San Quentin State Prison, home to death row, into rehabilitation center.

"The living conditions are really bad," he said of San Quentin.

"The culture engrained and taught among the prison guards from their time at training academy is one that sees the people who they are incarcerating as threats to public safety," he said. "It's going to take a lot more than a policy change or renaming the prison to change to the culture among the guards."

You can watch this full interview from our weekday ABC7 5:30 p.m. digital newscast in our video player above

RELATED: Rare look inside San Quentin Prison, home of death row

In just three months, voters have the chance to abolish the death penalty in California or speed up the process.

King adds that the physical structure of San Quentin is not conducive for the rehabilitation programs proposed as part of the transformation.

"I don't know if there is a way to meaningfully center the humanity of people while also holding them in captivity. I love the shift to resources, and I think the people there are excited about it," he said.

He says he learned how to deal with trauma while in prison, which helped him once he was released after six years.

RELATED: Crime victims, advocates criticize plan to make San Quentin State Prison a rehab facility

Crime victims' advocates say Newsom's plan to transform San Quentin State Prison to San Quentin Rehabilitation Center is far-fetched and dangerous.

"There are hundreds of people at San Quentin who could be released safety today and offer those same services in the community, and it would make a much healthier transition for all of us."

King now works to pass legislation to improve prisons across the country.

According to Ella Baker Center, King current policy interests include decarceration and improving the living conditions for incarcerated people, with the ultimate goal of creating alternatives to incarceration based upon investing in under-resourced communities.

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