‘If expansion is delayed, San Quentin would
not have beds to accommodate the condemned’
Death Row inmate housing at San Quentin State Prison has reached near full capacity.
California Gov. Jerry Brown had requested $3.2 million in special funding from legislators to expand Death Row by 97 cells, reported the Los Angeles Times.
“Based on the critical nature of the bed shortage, it is not feasible to delay the approval and implementation of this proposal,” stated the governor’s budget document.
“If expansion is delayed, San Quentin would not have beds to accommodate the condemned should any return from court, outside medical facilities, or if S.Q. receives any newly condemned inmates,” the governor reported.
S.Q. comprises four separate cell blocks – East Block, West Block, North Block and South Block.
The prison reports 708 out of 715 cells on Death Row in East Block are currently occupied.
Brown’s budget plan proposed to utilize an additional 97 cells on the first two tiers of the five-tier South Block.
Funding for the expansion would be used to increase staff, enhance security and modify secured showers for condemned inmates.
The availability of unoccupied cells is due in part to a U.S. District Court order to reduce California’s prison overcrowding, and last year’s voter-approved Proposition 47, resulting in the release and reclassify cation of certain low-level offenders.
In 2006, Clarence Ray Allen was the last inmate to get executed in California, which was by lethal injection.
Since then, the state has been barred from executing inmates due to the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the state’s three-drug lethal injection procedure is unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor unusual punishments inflicted.”
In 2012, Brown asked an advisory board to investigate a single-drug method to get around the court ruling. However, no methods have been adopted.
The constitutionality of the state’s capital punishment system is also being challenged.
In July 2014, a federal judge ruled that the appeals process for condemned inmates is unconstitutionally slow. Inmates often have to wait years to be appointed attorneys for their appeals, and wait even more years for the state Supreme Court to decide their cases.
The average wait time an inmate serves on Death Row before actually being executed in California has been 17.5 years.
It’s gotten so that inmates have begun to die of natural causes while awaiting execution. Forty-nine Death Row inmates have died from other causes since the last execution in 2006.
Critics of Brown said his proposal didn’t address these deeper issues concerning California’s death penalty system.
“This is a failure of Gov. Brown to do the things within his power to move things forward,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
The Legislature approved Brown’s budget proposal and construction is currently underway at San Quentin.
In a written statement to the L.A. Times, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who led the budget committee wrote:
“California is in a catch-22 situation. We are required by the courts to address prison overcrowding and we are required by law to provide certain minimum conditions for housing death penalty inmates. The Legislature can’t avoid its responsibilities in these areas even though the courts are currently considering the constitutionality of the death penalty, and I hope will agree to end it.”