|San Quentin Death Row: 'The nation's largest death row has run out of room.'|
With no executions in nearly a decade and newly condemned men arriving each month, the nation's largest death row has run out of room.
Warning that there is little time to lose, Gov. Jerry Brown is asking the California Legislature for $3.2 million to open nearly 100 more cells for condemned men at San Quentin State Prison.
The proposed expansion would take advantage of cells made available as the state releases low-level drug offenders and thieves under a new law voters approved last year.
California's death penalty has been the subject of a decade of litigation. One case led to a halt to executions in 2006. Another resulted in a federal judge's ruling last July that the state's interminably slow capital appeals system is unconstitutionally cruel. Through it all, the death row population has grown from 646 in 2006 to 751 today.
"Until the litigation is resolved, this cost-effective proposal allows [the state corrections department] to safely house condemned inmates going forward," corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said last week.
Legislators would have to approve the governor's funding request as part of the state's $113-billion budget.
But critics of Brown's handling of the state's stalled death penalty say his proposal doesn't address deeper problems with the California system. "This is a failure of Gov. Brown to do the things within his power to move things forward," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a group that has sued California seeking to force the state to resume executions.
There are 731 men and 20 women on California's death row. The women are housed in a maximum security unit at the Central California Women's Facility near Chowchilla, and Brown's proposal would not affect them.
Condemned men live at San Quentin, housed apart from other inmates in three cellblocks that Brown's budget plans note would have overflowed already if the state last summer had not, under court order, opened a 25-cell psychiatric unit for death row inmates.
San Quentin's death row can accommodate 715 inmates. Last week, prison officials said, 708 inmates were in those cells. Twenty-three others were scattered across the state for court hearings or held in long-term medical facilities or at prisons in other states.
Source: Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2015
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