« DC Council overrides DC mayor's veto of significant criminal justice reform bill | Main | The look of a federal capital moratorium(?): prosecutors not seeking death penalty for El Paso Walmart shooter »

January 17, 2023

California working to clear condemned inmates from death row

This recent NPR piece, headlined "California says it will dismantle death row. The move brings cheers and anger," provides an interesting overview of the state of California's death penalty as it seeks  to clear the nation's largest (and largely dormant) death row.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

California this week pushed ahead with controversial efforts to dismantle the largest death row system in America.

Under Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state is moving to make the transfer of condemned inmates permanent and mandatory after what the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) calls a successful pilot program that voluntarily moved 101 inmates off death row into general population prisons across the state....

After a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing in March, the state hopes to start moving all 671 death row inmates – 650 men and 21 women — into several other prisons across the state with high-security units. Some prisoners will be able to get jobs or cellmates if they are mainstreamed into the general prison population.

The CDCR says the move allows the state "to phase out the practice of segregating people on death row based solely on their sentence." No inmates will be re-sentenced and no death row commutations offered, officials say.

Technically, the death penalty still exists in California. Prosecutors can still seek it. But no one has been put to death in the state in 17 years. And in 2019, Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions and he closed the death chamber at San Quentin, the decrepit and still heavily used 19th century prison overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Those who get prison jobs — as clerks, laundry or kitchen helpers – will see 70 percent of their pay go to victims' families, as required under Proposition 66. That 2016 voter-passed initiative amended California's Penal Code to require death-sentenced inmates to work and pay restitution....

But death penalty proponents and victims' rights advocates are frustrated and angry. "To hear this news is devastating," says Sandra Friend. She described feeling victimized all over again. Her 8-year-old son Michael Lyons was making his way home from school in Yuba City, Calif., in 1996 when he was abducted and sodomized by serial killer Robert Boyd Rhoades, who dumped the child's body in a riverbed....

In part, California's death penalty reforms grew out of 2016's Prop. 66, which promised to speed up the time between a death sentence and an execution. The successful ballot measure also required condemned prisoners to work and pay restitution. Now death penalty proponents accuse Newsom of exploiting a lesser-known section of Prop. 66 for his own ideological and political purposes.

"The governor has taken loopholes and nuances in the law and used them to give criminals — the worst criminals — a break," says Michael Rushford, president of the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "To start mainstreaming people like Tiequon Cox, who killed an entire family in Los Angeles after going to the wrong address to do a gang hit, is an abandonment of justice. Injecting politics into criminal justice and public safety is insane. It's unjust, unfair and it's stupid."...

In California, Sandra Friend says it's outrageous that killers like Rhoades may "get rewarded," as she puts it, with expanded work options, even a cellmate. "For him to be able to leave death row and go into a cushier prison, having maybe possibly a cellie, having a job, is terrifying because he is the worst of the worst. He is a monster," she says.

State officials underscore that inmate transfers and their housing will depend on the specific facts of each inmate. "Their housing would depend on their individual case factors, and it's what the multidisciplinary teams will be evaluating," says CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters.... The state hopes to permanently empty California's death row by this fall, a CDCR official says.

Friend vows to fight the effort. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled in Sacramento for March 8. "I'm definitely going to make Michael's voice heard," she says, "because he's the one that is getting lost in all of this."

January 17, 2023 at 09:13 PM | Permalink


Gavin Newsom is a disgusting creature. He violated his own ukases regarding COVID-19, yet was not prosecuted. In a normal society, he'd resign in disgrace.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 18, 2023 9:24:37 AM

Federalist, ever since you outed yourself as a person who thinks Donald Trump was a "great President," we cannot take seriously any comment you make.

Posted by: anon | Jan 18, 2023 10:45:33 AM

It is more than ironic that the President of the CJLF is criticizing the execution of the law, Prop 66, that his legal director wrote. Will Kent Scheidegger be looking for a new job?

Posted by: Fuzzyone | Jan 18, 2023 10:52:22 AM

Didn't DJT get Soleimani, a war criminal with the blood of thousands of US servicemen on his hands?

Posted by: federalist | Jan 18, 2023 11:34:43 AM

Freeing up CDCR to move people to other prisons and work to pay restitution was something CJLF was all for doing, before they were against it

Posted by: John | Jan 18, 2023 1:30:02 PM

Meanwhile, although the California electorate voted for the DP and Newsome disenfranchised those voters, the Mexican drug cartel shot six people in the head in central California, execution style. This included a 16 year old mother and 10 month old baby.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 18, 2023 2:03:43 PM

TarlsQtr --

Don't you know by now that murder victims are human garbage? And besides, drug gangs help distribute drugs, and drugs are wonderful (as we hear so often on this blog), so we don't want to be too hard on these guys. Besides, anything you say against the Mexican drug cartel is probably just anti-Mexican, which wouldn't be surprising since we all know you're a racist anyway. You just never change.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 18, 2023 3:21:05 PM

I learned from the best! You! 😆

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 18, 2023 5:15:47 PM

TarlsQtr --

Now, now. You're supposed to be kind to the elderly.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 18, 2023 10:57:25 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB