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March 4, 2011

Budget woes might get in way of California's plans for "Cadillac" death row

This interesting new Bloomberg piece, headlined "California's 'Cadillac' Death Row Complex Target in Budget Talks," spotlights an interesting on-going debate about costs for the state with the largest death row in the nation.  Here are excerpts:

California is set to begin construction of a new death row, already the biggest in the U.S., at a cost to taxpayers of as much as $1 billion, even though it may reach capacity in as little as three years.  Contracts for the unit at San Quentin prison may be awarded in weeks. The complex would replace cells there dating as far back as 1927.  The project, at 540,000 square feet (50,000 square meters), would be about the size of the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is negotiating with lawmakers to plug a $25.4 billion deficit over the next 15 months through a combination of tax extensions and spending cuts.  With services for the poor, sick and elderly threatened, some lawmakers say it’s not the time to spend money on 768 new cells.

“It’s a Cadillac death row,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a Democrat from Marin County, where the prison is located, about 10 miles north of the Golden Gate . “Even if you were to somehow try to justify this huge expense by saying this is the solution to our condemned-inmate needs, it’s a three-year solution and then you are left right where we are now.”  While inmates now live one to a cell, the prison system plans to double-bunk, to make room for 1,152 men. Opponents say that might violate prisoners’ rights....

Executions have been blocked since 2006 by a federal judge over concerns that California’s lethal injection procedures and equipment were tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.  Last month, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel toured San Quentin’s new death chamber, built for almost $900,000.  He has yet to rule on its fitness.

The death-row complex, estimated by the prison system to cost $270 million, is to be financed with bonds. The interest on the bonds over 25 years may bring the cost to taxpayers to $1 billion, according to Huffman and Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco and chairman of the Budget Committee.

California has 713 inmates awaiting execution, the corrections department said yesterday. By comparison, Florida ranked second, with 398, and Texas was third at 337...  About 700 condemned men are confined at San Quentin, north of San Francisco, in facilities built to hold 554, according to the Corrections Department’s website. (Nineteen women face execution and are held in Chowchilla, a prison in the Central Valley.)  On average, the men are likely to spend 17 years in the aging cell blocks, according to the prison system....

Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, approved a $64 million loan from the general fund in August to begin construction on the new death row.  That money is to be repaid by the sale of prison construction bonds.  When lawmakers in 2003 approved the new San Quentin complex, it was expected to cost $220 million.  That ballooned 62 percent to $356 million on delays caused in part by opposition from state and local officials....

Putting two inmates in each cell would provide enough capacity for death row until 2035, according to the state auditor. If the state can’t double-up, the complex would be full by 2014.  The state’s existing death-row buildings include two cell blocks built in 1927 and 1934 and a three-story concrete “adjustment center” where newly sentenced and the most- dangerous condemned inmates are confined....

 Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 53 condemned inmates have died from natural causes while on death row. Eighteen committed suicide and 13 were executed. Six died from other causes.

March 4, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Permalink

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Comments

let's see the state is broke. the state prison system is BEYOND broke it's under partial control of the febs...so why isn't this headline followed by the announced ARREST of whatever idiot is trying to spend a billion dollars for something they are using what 2-3 times a year!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 5, 2011 1:37:22 AM

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