San Quentin State Prison could soon be transformed into a rehab space and eliminate death row

Luz Pena Image
Saturday, January 6, 2024
San Quentin prison could soon be transformed into a rehab space
An advisory council was tasked with coming up with ideas to change San Quentin State Prison, California's oldest prison, into a rehabilitation space.

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KGO) -- San Quentin State prison could soon be transformed. An advisory council was tasked with coming up with ideas to change California's oldest prison into a rehabilitation space.

The advisory council is hoping for this report to become a template that would be used to reform prisons across the country. They are recommending to build housing and eliminate death row among other changes.

The 150 page Reimagining San Quentin report breaks down how to turn the maximum-security prison into a rehabilitation center. Sacramento's Mayor Darrell Steinberg co-chaired the council and broke down their priorities.

"Reducing the population. Single cell will then give us a better chance we believe to ensure that every resident has a comprehensive rehabilitation or re-entry plan from day one," said Mayor Steinberg.

The advisory council recommended aggressively reducing the prison's population.

"From the current number of about 3,600 to between 2,200 and 2,600 residents. In order to achieve the personalization that is necessary to give people a better chance at rehabilitation," said Mayor Steinberg.

MORE: Here's a look at the transformation of San Quentin State Prison

Progress is already being made inside San Quentin to turn a maximum security prison to a one-of-a-kind rehabilitation center. Here's a closer look:

Reducing the population will also lead to getting rid of death row.

"We suggest very strongly the elimination of death row. That could either be remodeling of death row or re-configuring or tearing it down and replace it with quality modular housing," said Mayor Steinberg.

The Human Rights Organization Ella Baker Center agrees with the report, but would like the state to give those on death row options after the changes.

"Yes, with the caveat that some people who are on death row may want to stay at San Quentin and we support peoples autonomy in where they feel the best path towards rehabilitation lies," said James King, Co-Director of Programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

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

James King is a former San Quentin inmate who says he commends Governor Newsom's plan on improving California's prisons.

Transforming San Quentin was one of Governor Newsom's budget priorities in 2023. It came with a $360 million price tag which included turning the prison's 81,000 square foot building called "Building 38" into an education center. The advisory council said they can do it for less.

"The $360 million price tag should be reduced by at least one-third. We have been working iterative with the community and as well as the Department of Corrections and we believe that approximately $240 million. That they can still build a mini vocational training campus," said Mayor Steinberg.

Cat Brooks, Executive Director of the Anti police-Terror Project doesn't agree with this plan.

"There are a number of flaws with the plan. San Quentin is a very old, very violent, very dungeon like place. To transform it into a rehabilitative center would require to literally tearing it down and building it back up from scratch. The health issues from the infrastructure alone are problematic," said Brooks.

VIDEO: SF marathon a defiant step for former San Quentin inmates participating at event

Three former San Quentin inmates will race in Sunday's San Francisco Marathon.

Brooks would like to see more resources also go towards preventing incarceration

"There are countries all over Europe where they invest in their communities. They invest in their people and they don't have the problems that we have here but we think we can incarcerate our way out of racism and trauma," said Brooks.

The report also recommends building two centers outside San Quentin.

"Consideration of the building of two 200 bed re-entry centers outside of the San Quentin rehabilitation center walls, but adjacent to San Quentin so that there could be a clear pathway for people in their last years of their sentence who are appropriate to begin that transition into the community," said Mayor Steinberg.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live