North Bay lawmakers
call for Death Row housing study
Photo courtesy Buddy
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
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
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,
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.
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