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North Bay lawmakers
call for Death Row housing study

Photo courtesy Buddy Stone

By James Lanaras

June 26, 2007

Elected officials announced legislation Monday that would examine cost-effective condemned inmate housing at San Quentin before more money is spent on a proposed condemned inmate complex.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, state Senator Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, and Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey assembled outside the prison this morning in support of AB 1743.

They said the bill does not attempt to decommission San Quentin or relocate death row, but is intended to identify better strategies for housing the inmates.

"I accept the fact that San Quentin will continue being a prison and the home of death row inmates for many years to come," Huffman said, "but what I cannot accept are the massive cost overruns and lack of creative thinking reflected in the proposed expansion of death row."

Among the options that would be considered in the bill are those that preserve the possibility of non-correctional uses, such as a public transit hub, on part of the San Quentin property, Huffman said.

The bill would direct the Bureau of State audits to prepare an analysis of alternatives for condemned inmate housing while maintaining the lethal injection chamber at San Quentin.

The report would have to be completed by April 2008 and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would be prohibited from spending additional money on the proposed condemned inmate complex until the study is completed.

"The Legislature does not look kindly on the prison system's habit of using state coffers as an ATM to pay for their runaway costs," Migden said. "Construction must halt until a thorough audit proves this site is the most economical for the state and for taxpayers."

The existing facilities suffer from design and structural deficiencies that will make them unsuitable for housing death row inmates, the officials said, and the Legislature authorized $220 million in 2003 for a new condemned inmate complex at San Quentin.

Cost estimates have since increased by 53 percent, construction has not started and the proposed facility's capacity has been reduced by 25 percent, Migden, Huffman and Kinsey said.

San Quentin prison spokesman Lt. Eric Messick said those numbers are accurate as the proposal that once called for 1,400 beds has been reduced to housing 1,152 inmates in 768 cells and the cost of the proposed complex is now $336.5 million. There are 623 inmates now in death row, Messick said.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation press secretary Seth Unger said the department doesn't take positions on pending legislation and that the proposed condemned inmate housing complex is "still a timely solution to the housing problem."

Unger said keeping death row at San Quentin is beneficial because it is close to the California Supreme Court and is convenient for the attorneys who represent and visit the condemned inmates.

The existing staff has training in dealing with death row inmates and the new facility will be more secure and have better access to a law library, and visiting, religious and medical facilities, Unger said.

The extra money to build the condemned inmate housing complex will be the subject of state budget negotiations, Unger said. There is no date to break ground on the project, Unger added.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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