Davis wants new death row at San Quentin
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From: H Jones 
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Subject: [patrickcrusade] Davis wants expanded death row at San Quentin

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Davis wants new death row at San Quentin

Despite $35 billion deficit, governor says bigger facility needed to house more inmates

Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - 
Gov. Gray Davis wants California to make room for its growing population of condemned inmates by building a new state-of-the-art death row at a cost of $220 million. 

The budget Davis proposed last week in the face of a $35 billion deficit includes money for a new facility at San Quentin prison that will hold 963 death row inmates and include a clinic so they need not be shipped elsewhere for medical treatment. California now has 603 inmates awaiting execution. 

Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan announced Saturday that he had commuted the sentences of all 167 death row inmates in his state. Davis, a moderate Democrat with tough law-and-order stands, says he will not follow suit. 

California's current death row is a hodgepodge of prison facilities, mostly at San Quentin, corrections officials said; more cells are switched to death row status as the number of sentences increases. The state averages more than 20 new death sentences a year, but only about one execution. 

"When individuals are convicted by a jury of their peers and sentenced to death, the public expects that these individuals will be kept in a secure location," said Davis aide Hilary McLean. 

Yet Assemblyman Joe Nation, the San Rafael Democrat whose district includes the prison, said he believes the valuable Marin County site should instead be sold off as surplus property to help ease the enormous deficit looming during the next 17 months. 

"It's hard to imagine we'd beinvesting $220 million when we're cutting critical social service programs and education," Nation said. "I understand the problem, but I don't think this is the answer." 

Consolidation of prisons 

In light of a declining overall prison population, the lawmaker said, he instead favors consolidation of prisons and meeting the housing needs for the increasing number of death row inmates at another location. 

"I'm anything but an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal," Nation said. 

Even less enthusiastic is Rose Braz, director of the Oakland-based organization Critical Resistance which opposes prison expansion. She called the plan "unbelievable." 

Kentucky and Arkansas have released some offenders a few months early to save millions of dollars; Texas has declined to reimprison people for minor parole violations; Michigan has recently revamped its mandatory minimum sentencing laws; and Ohio has canceled some prison construction, she said. 

Population leveling off 

Yet, while these states move to reduce prison populations and costs, California keeps building new prisons even as its prison population levels off, Braz said. 

"The way to reduce prison spending is to reduce the number of people in prison -- this governor doesn't appear to know that and appears unwilling to even consider it," she said. 

"It's pretty much insanity, and we're the only state that this is happening in. California stands alone with this huge sacred cow of corrections, even though they'll tell you everything is on the chopping block." 

Braz also noted the lease revenue bonds with which Davis proposes to pay for this project -- as well as the $595 million, 5,160-bed prison planned at Delano in Kern County -- are paid out of the state's general fund, creating an unwieldy burden for future administrations. 

Staff writers Josh Richman, Steve Geissinger, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.