Antelope Valley Press

Advisory group raps San Quentin project’s big price


SACRAMENTO — An advisory council hand-picked by California Gov. Gavin Newsom recommende­d Friday that the governor slash by at least a third the cost of a $360 million project to remake the San Quentin State Prison, and use the saved money to improve living conditions at the facility.

The Democratic governor last year announced plans to transform San Quentin, where the state performed executions, into a model for preparing people for life on the outside — a shift from the state’s decadeslon­g focus on punishment.

The ambitious vision includes a plan to tear down an old furniture factory on the prison grounds and replace it with a building more reminiscen­t of a college campus, with a student union and classrooms. Lawmakers greenlit the project without knowing its details during budget negotiatio­ns last year, and also relinquish­ed any formal oversight of the planning process.

The 21-member advisory council, headed by Newsom political ally and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, said at least $120 million of the project’s $360 million budget should pay for housing improvemen­ts for inmates and officers, renovation­s to the family visitation center and the creation of spaces that replicate life outside prison, such as a town square, grocery store and coffee shop.

Diverting the money in this way would help San Quentin address other urgent needs necessary to implement the cultural changes, he said. The council’s report notes that it has no final authority over how the project is designed and doesn’t specify how much money would go to each of its proposals.

“Building and enhancing job training and education is core to the mission, so it’s appropriat­e to invest in the building,” Steinberg told The Associated Press. “But let’s see if we can reduce the cost and then redirect the rest of the money to other priorities that we’ve laid out in the report.”

Steinberg said he briefed Newsom on the report but he declined to share the governor’s reaction.

Newsom will review the report and work with the state Department of Correction­s and Rehabilita­tion and lawmakers on next steps, said spokespers­on Izzy Gardon.

Brian Kaneda, deputy director of the criminal justice reform coalition CURB, said the advisory council’s recommenda­tion is a step in the right direction. The group has advocated for more prison closures and investment­s in reentry programs.

“The Advisory Council’s principled call for a major reduction in funding for the new $360 million building should be a wake-up call,” Kaneda said. “This recommenda­tion from the governor’s own council affirms some of the persistent and ongoing critiques about this project.”

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