California governor orders death row transformed into ‘positive, healing environment’

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM NEWS


In 1996, a California jury sentenced Richard Allen Davis to death row for the kidnapping and strangulation of a 12-year-old girl. His court procedure took so long that when the state stopped executions in 2006, Davis was still on death row. Now he’s an example of a convict that’s slated to be moved to a “positive, healing environment” thanks to current governor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom announced the plan to empty San Quentin State Prison’s death row by transferring inmates into seven other facilities on Monday. The Democratic governor told reporters, “Premeditated murder is wrong in all forms and all manifestations including government-sponsored premeditated murder. I do not support the death penalty. I never have.”

Later, he added, “As a nation we preach justice, but we don’t practice it on death row.”

Although the Golden State has not executed any prisoners since 2006, Newsom placed a moratorium on executions in 2019. A few years before that in 2016, over 50% of California voters approved Proposition 66 which was meant to speed up death row legal proceedings through changes to the court review process, while simultaneously rejecting a repeal of death row proposed by Proposition 62.

The affirmed Proposition 66 also contained a stipulation that death row inmates would need to work while incarcerated to make restitution payments to their victims’ families. Newsom rejected his constituents’ wishes and seized an opportunity in the work requirement to initiate transfers off death row.

On Monday, he claimed that voters affirmed a responsibility “to actually move that population on death row out and to get them working” when they voted yes on Proposition 66.

This process began two years ago with a pilot program that has since moved 116 of the state’s condemned male prisoners into maximum security facilities under the justification that they needed access to facilities so they could work. Now, Newsom has accelerated plans to empty death row.

“We are starting the process of closing death row to repurpose and transform the current housing units into something innovative and anchored in rehabilitation,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Vicky Waters told The Associated Press.

Corrections officials plan to propose permanent regulations to govern this process and, as Waters said, “allow for the repurposing of all death row housing units.”

Newsom’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning in July includes $1.5 million for this purpose, including hiring a consultant to “develop options for [the] space focused on creating a positive, healing environment to provide increased rehabilitative, educational, and health care opportunities.”

Oregon made a similar move by transferring condemned prisoners into other facilities in 2020. Illinois has also recently halted executions. 28 states and the Federal Government currently maintain death rows.

For victims’ families, the change is understandably emotional. Michael Rushford, whose organization Criminal Justice Legal Foundation favors the governor’s order, acknowledged that the order provides very little comfort for victim’s families:

They’re moving condemned murderers into facilities that are going to make their lives better and offer them more amenities, while the victims still mourn the death of their family member.