California's decision to move 700 death row inmates from San Quentin to rehab programs slammed by victims' families

The move comes as an unfortunate side-effect of Proposition 66 and Governor Gavin Newsom's moratorium on the death penalty

                            California's decision to move 700 death row inmates from San Quentin to rehab programs slammed by victims' families
(Getty Images)

Victims' rights advocates in California are enraged after it was announced that more than 700 death row inmates in San Quentin will be allowed to move to other prisons in the state, mingle with the general population, and access to rehabilitation and work programs.

The allowance is an unfortunate side-effect of a ballot initiative that had been approved by voters themselves four years ago to speed up executions by assigning more lawyers to death sentence appeals and shifting some appeals to trial court judges, according to Fox News.

Voters in California have always been in favor of the death penalty. In 2016, they first rejected Proposition 62, a measure to eliminate the death penalty, before then narrowly approving Proposition 66, a separate measure to speed up executions.

That never came to fruition as Governor Gavin Newsom (D) issued a death penalty moratorium soon after taking office in March 2019, but that proposition also contained a provision allowing condemned inmates to be housed at other prisons than San Quentin until their execution date is set.

San Quentin prison, located North of San Francisco, is California's oldest prison and the state's only death row for male inmates, which also happens to be the largest in the United States despite how infrequently prisoners are executed.

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, only 13 inmates have been executed. As many as 82 others on death row have died from natural causes, and 27 have committed suicide. 

San Quentin currently houses 728 such inmates, the most in the country, but has not carried out an execution since 2006, which combined with Proposition 66 means these inmates will have a chance to live more comfortable lives.

However, it seems that the perks were never intended. "One of the arguments made against the death penalty was it cost too much to house them at San Quentin, which is an antique facility," explained Criminal Justice Legal Foundation legal director Kent Scheidegger, who helped write Proposition 66. 

"Our response was, well, they don't need to be housed there," he continued. "It was more to defuse one of the contrary arguments."

Former San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos, co-chairman of the committee that backed Proposition 66, similarly expressed his anger at the plan. "Victims' families suffer every day," he said. "Now to say that this murderer is going to be allowed to go to a rehabilitation program and be treated like any other low-grade inmate is a slap to the face."

Currently, death row inmates are locked in solitary cells and are handcuffed and escorted by at least two corrections officers when they are moved from their cell. If they are moved to the general population, there is a fear that they could pose a security threat as the precautions taken are much laxer.

"Officers @CACorrections will face another danger," Ramos tweeted. "These killers have nothing to lose!"

Crime Victims Alliance director Christine Ward also accused Newsom of endangering the lives of prison employees, other inmates, and the public because "condemned inmates have nothing to lose if they commit acts of violence."

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said they hope to start the program within 60 days but don't have a timeline yet because participation is voluntary.

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