Some con­demned in­mates to move off death row

Antelope Valley Press - - NEWS - By DON THOMP­SON

SACRA­MENTO — More than 700 con­demned in­mates on Cal­i­for­nia’s largest-in-the-na­tion death row soon will have a chance to trans­fer to one of eight state pris­ons, a move a for­mer district at­tor­ney termed “a slap to the face” of vic­tims.

The vol­un­tary trans­fers from San Quentin State Prison’s all-male death row to other high-se­cu­rity pris­ons could ben­e­fit con­demned in­mates not only with more free­dom and a change of scenery, but pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and work pro­grams.

That may sound like an­other in a series of steps Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers and voters have taken in re­cent years to re­duce crim­i­nal penal­ties. But it ac­tu­ally was part of a bal­lot ini­tia­tive voters nar­rowly ap­proved four years ago to try to speed up ex­e­cu­tions.

The state hasn’t ex­e­cuted any­one since 2006 but voters have con­tin­ued to back the death penalty even as they re­duced many drug and prop­erty crimes from felonies to mis­de­meanors and al­lowed for the ear­lier pa­role of thou­sands of in­mates.

For­mer San Bernardino District At­tor­ney Mike Ramos, co-chair­man of the Propo­si­tion 66 com­mit­tee that backed the 2016 ini­tia­tive, said this isn’t what voters in­tended when 51% fa­vored quicker ex­e­cu­tions by as­sign­ing more lawyers to death sen­tence ap­peals and shift­ing some ap­peals to trial court judges.

Demo­cratic Gov. Gavin New­som im­posed a mora­to­rium when he took of­fice last year that he said would last as long as he is in of­fice.

Vic­tims’ fam­i­lies “suf­fer ev­ery day,” Ramos said. “Now to say that this mur­derer is going to be al­lowed to go to a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram and be treated like any other low­grade in­mate is a slap to the face.”

Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Le­gal Foun­da­tion le­gal di­rec­tor Kent Schei­deg­ger, who helped write Propo­si­tion 66, said pro­po­nents didn’t in­tend to cod­dle con­demned in­mates.

“One of the ar­gu­ments made against the death penalty was it cost too much to house them at San Quentin, which is an an­tique fa­cil­ity. Our re­sponse was, well, they don’t need to be housed there,” Schei­deg­ger said. “It was more to defuse one of the con­trary ar­gu­ments.”

There’s not much point in try­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate con­demned in­mates, he said: “Un­less they get par­doned, they’re not going to be see­ing the out­side of the prison walls any­way.”

The non­par­ti­san leg­isla­tive an­a­lyst at the time said the trans­fers could save money be­cause of in­creased se­cu­rity costs at San Quentin. In­mates on death row are housed one to a cell and gen­er­ally are hand­cuffed and es­corted by one or two cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers when­ever they are out­side their cells.

At the other pris­ons, they’ll be housed with non-con­demned in­mates and par­tic­i­pate in pro­grams and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Con­demned women are housed at the Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia Women’s Fa­cil­ity in Chowchilla and will have to stay there be­cause it’s the only women’s prison sur­rounded by a lethal elec­tri­fied fence. But those 22 women can trans­fer to al­ter­nate hous­ing within the prison and, like the men, par­tic­i­pate in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and work pro­grams.

Demo­cratic As­sem­bly­man Marc Levine said it’s ironic that death penalty sup­port­ers in­cluded the pro­vi­sion in their bid to speed ex­e­cu­tions, but now are un­happy with the re­sults.

“That they also voted to al­low re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices is poetic jus­tice and re­veals just how bro­ken and be­yond re­pair the death penalty is,” he said.

Levine is lob­by­ing leg­is­la­tors to put a new mea­sure on the Novem­ber bal­lot ask­ing voters, for the third time in eight years, to end cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

Correction­s of­fi­cials dis­man­tled the state’s newly built $853,000 ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber at New­som’s di­rec­tion, but con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ing what they are call­ing a two-year pi­lot pro­gram to al­low the trans­fers off death row.

“We’re car­ry­ing out this part of the law,” correction­s de­part­ment spokes­woman Terry Thorn­ton said.

The con­demned in­mates will face psy­cho­log­i­cal, phys­i­cal and se­cu­rity eval­u­a­tions, the same as any other in­mate, to de­ter­mine their ap­pro­pri­ate hous­ing. The only ones im­me­di­ately in­el­i­gi­ble are those in dis­ci­plinary seg­re­ga­tion or those who have com­mit­ted se­ri­ous of­fenses within prison in the last five years.

Prison ad­min­is­tra­tors and re­searchers plan to eval­u­ate the pro­gram over the two years, track­ing the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants, the num­ber with jobs, in­mates’ be­hav­ior, and any ef­fect on prison safety.

The bal­lot mea­sure re­quires that 70% of any­thing they earn will go to a resti­tu­tion pro­gram for vic­tims and sur­vivors, up from the 50% resti­tu­tion rate for other pris­on­ers.

“One of the thoughts be­hind Prop 66, there’s no rea­son death row in­mates can’t work and earn some small in­come, and that small in­come can go to the vic­tim’s fam­ily,” Schei­deg­ger said. “It’s not going to be much but at least it can be sym­bolic.”

Ramos coun­tered: “I don’t know of one fam­ily that’s going to want one cent from some­one who took their loved ones.”

The de­part­ment hopes to start the pro­gram within 60 days, but can’t say when the first in­mate will move or how many will par­tic­i­pate, be­cause it’s vol­un­tary, Thorn­ton said.

Crime Vic­tims Al­liance di­rec­tor Chris­tine Ward ac­cused New­som of break­ing what she said was his prom­ise to crime vic­tims af­ter his mora­to­rium to “take no fur­ther ac­tion re­gard­ing the sta­tus of con­demned in­mates.”

She said the move en­dan­gers prison em­ploy­ees, other in­mates and the pub­lic be­cause “con­demned in­mates have noth­ing to lose if they com­mit acts of vi­o­lence.”


A con­demned in­mate walks along the east block of death row at San Quentin State Prison. More than 700 con­demned in­mates on Cal­i­for­nia’s largest-in-the-na­tion death row will soon have a chance to vol­un­tary trans­fer from San Quentin to other high se­cu­rity pris­ons un­der a pro­gram re­quired by the pas­sage of a 2016 bal­lot ini­tia­tive.

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