Gov. Gavin Newsom Unveils Vision For San Quentin State Prison

Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his plan Friday to transform San Quentin State Prison into a facility that emphasizes service and support over punishment, calling the new model the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center.

The governor joined former and current prison staff and inmates, elected officials and criminal justice reform advocates at a news conference at the prison on Friday to announce the project, which some are calling a Scandinavian approach to incarceration .

“I don’t call it a Scandinavian model,” Newsom said Friday when asked about the comparison. “It’s the California model. The California way, borrowing from global best practice.”

Newsom said he wants to make San Quentin “the preeminent restorative justice facility in the world.”

An incarcerated person studies with the help of a volunteer at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., Friday, March 17, 2023. Standard’s Jungho Kim

Under the new plan, San Quentin will house only about 2,000 inmates serving lighter sentences and transfer more than 500 inmates with more crimes, including those on death row, to other facilities.

Newsom said the transition will take place in 2025, for which he has pledged $20 million.

The so-called Scandinavian model emphasizes education, training and rehabilitation over punishment, with the idea that people should leave prison no worse off than they were when they entered. Newsom said some approaches have already begun in smaller prisons across the state, but this one will be the largest.

On Friday, March 17, 2023, Randolph Jackson presents a project he’s working on in his web development class at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California. Standard’s Jungho Kim

In the new mode of San Quentin, prisoners will be able to learn lucrative trades to increase their chances of success upon release. This means prisoners can learn to become plumbers, electricians or truck drivers.

Currently, San Quentin already has its own college program, an award-winning inmate-produced newspaper, and several other enriching opportunities.

State Senator Mike McGuire of Healdsburg also supported the new direction.

“We put politics above sensible policy when it comes to our criminal justice system,” he said. “Newsom’s action today is not just about reform. It’s about changing lives. It’s about ending the prison pipeline that affects California’s communities of color. It’s about creating a path for entire families and a better future for this state .It’s about saving taxpayer money.”

Both McGuire and the governor said that at the heart of the need for a new approach is the state’s 70 percent recidivism rate. While he says his office is simply studying reform patterns around the world and will create its own, he cites Norway’s 20 percent recidivism rate as an argument for restorative justice rather than simply warehousing people.

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks to incarcerated individuals and members of the press at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., Friday, March 17, 2023. Standard’s Jungho Kim

Newsom joked when asked what challenges he faced implementing the new model.

“Fires, droughts, social unrest, pandemics?” he quipped, adding: “Ron DeSantis?”

“People who are interested will make excuses. People who are responsible will find a way to make things right,” he said.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, spoke at a news conference in support of the plan.

“For decades, we’ve believed that we could be safer as a state,” he said. “If we put our prisoners in the most remote parts of the state, if we can send them out, separate them from their communities, separate them from us, separate them from their loved ones and families, somehow We will be safer.

An incarcerated person studies with the help of a volunteer at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., Friday, March 17, 2023. Standard’s Jungho Kim

“Actually, I think the opposite is needed,” Ting said.

San Quentin is located in the prime area of ​​Marin facing the bay. It is the oldest prison in California and once housed the largest death row in the United States. It currently houses around 3,300 prisoners.

In 2019, Newsom suspends executions in the state and ordered the demolition of the death chamber at San Quentin.

Copyright © 2023 Bay City News, Inc.

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