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April 29, 2011

Governor Jerry Brown cancels plan for fancy new death row in California

As explained in this local article, headlined "Jerry Brown cancels plan for $356-million death row," budget austerity in California has killed plans for a new death row facility.  Here are the details:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday canceled construction of a $356-million death row at San Quentin prison, saying it would be "unconscionable" to spend so much on condemned inmates as the state is slashing budgets for education and other social services.

"At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the state of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals," Brown said in a statement.

The cancellation will save the state's general fund $28.5 million a year for 25 years, the cost of financing the construction loan, said Brown spokesman Gil Duran. Previous administrations spent about $20 million on planning and design for a two-building complex, Duran said. The project was approved in 2003, before the global financial crisis opened a gaping hole in the state budget....

Construction of a death row to accommodate the growing population of condemned prisoners has been fiercely debated. California taxpayers spend more on prisons than any other service except education, and the cost of keeping an inmate on death row is more than three times the annual upkeep of other prisoners, according to research conducted for the bipartisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.

The corrections department puts the figure for each inmate's incarceration at $44,500 a year, but Hidalgo said there was no breakdown for death row prisoners.

The new facility would have had room for 1,152 condemned inmates and housed visitor, medical and mental health facilities to cut down on the cumbersome and costly need to escort death row prisoners around the wider institution, Hidalgo said. California now has 713 condemned inmates, 18 of whom are women housed at separate prisons.

Conditions on the existing death row are "just dismal," said Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, which advocates for inmates' rights. The cells are cramped, old and dilapidated, he said, and don't offer prisoners enough room to exercise. The worst conditions, including bird and rodent infestation and a plumbing problem that created "stalactites of human detritus" hanging over balconies, were cleaned up in response to a lawsuit a few years ago, Specter said.

Despite the hardship for inmates, Specter expects Brown's cancellation of the facility to be politically popular, especially given the budget crisis. "I'm sure most folks don't want prisoners to be comfortable, and they certainly are not," he said.

Death penalty advocates and many elected officials also praised the move. "I am glad to see that Gov. Brown has made the right choice to save millions of taxpayer dollars instead of wasting money to expand upon the prison," said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), who opposed plans for the new death row when he was a member of the state Legislature. He wanted to close San Quentin and sell the large waterfront site for private development.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports capital punishment, also applauded the decision. "I don't think we need a new death row, either. What we need to do is carry out the judgments we already have," Scheidegger said, calling on the state's leadership to step up the pace in clearing the legal hurdles to resuming executions....

Brown has expressed his personal objection to capital punishment but has also vowed to respect the will of the majority of Californians, who have said they want to keep the death penalty as a sentencing option for the worst criminals. Thursday's order had nothing to do with the governor's personal aversion to the death penalty, Duran said: "This is purely about dollars and cents."

April 29, 2011 at 10:22 AM | Permalink

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Comments

There's a back story here. The new death row would go into San Quentin, which is located, unbelievably, on some of the most valuable real estate in California in Marin County with panoramic bay views.

The prison guards want San Quentin to stay where it is, while everyone else wants to move it to some cheaper real estate inland. The prison guards wanted the new death row because that would make San Quentin harder to tear down later. Plus the prison guards always support more, larger and more expensive prisons.

While Brown has apparently decided to cave in to the prison guards union in general (in a manner that is frankly pretty cowardly and hypocritical on multiple levels), on this one point at least he allowed logic to carry the day.

Posted by: James | Apr 29, 2011 12:24:20 PM

lol 20 million just to DEISGN two buildings...no wonder the idiots are broke!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 29, 2011 8:39:32 PM

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