San Quentin State Prison
|Location||San Quentin, California, U.S.|
|Opened||July 1852, 167 years ago|
|Managed by||California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation|
San Quentin State Prison (SQ) is a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison for men, located north of San Francisco in the unincorporated town of San Quentin in Marin County.
Opened in July 1852, San Quentin is the oldest prison in California. The state's only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison. It has a gas chamber, but since 1996, executions at the prison have been carried out by lethal injection, though the prison has not performed an execution since 2006. The prison has been featured on film, radio drama, video, and television; is the subject of many books; has hosted concerts; and has housed many notorious inmates.
The correctional complex sits on Point San Quentin, which consists of 432 acres (1.75 km2) on the north side of San Francisco Bay. The prison complex itself occupies 275 acres (1.11 km2), valued in a 2001 study at between $129 million and $664 million.
Men condemned to death in California (with some exceptions) must be held at San Quentin, while condemned women are held at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. As of December 2015, San Quentin held almost 700 male inmates in its Condemned Unit, or "death row." As of 2001, San Quentin's death row was described as "the largest in the Western Hemisphere"; as of 2005, it was called "the most populous execution antechamber in the United States." The states of Florida and Texas had fewer death row inmates in 2008 (397 and 451 respectively) than San Quentin.
The death row at San Quentin is divided into three sections: the quiet "North-Segregation" or "North-Seg," built in 1934, for prisoners who "don't cause trouble"; the "East Block," a "crumbling, leaky maze of a place built in 1927"; and the "Adjustment Center" for the "worst of the worst." Most of the prison's death row inmates reside in the East Block. The fourth floor of the North Block was the prison's first death row facility, but additional death row space opened after executions resumed in the U.S. in 1978. The adjustment center received solid doors, preventing "gunning-down" or attacking persons with bodily waste. As of 2016[update] it housed 81 death row inmates and four non-death row inmates. A dedicated psychiatric facility serves the prisoners. A converted shower bay in the East Block hosts religious services. Many prison programs available for most inmates are unavailable for death row inmates.
Although $395 million was allocated in the 2008–2009 state budget for new death row facilities at San Quentin, in December 2008 two legislators introduced bills to eliminate the funding. The state had planned to build a new death row facility, but Governor Jerry Brown canceled those plans in 2011. In 2015 Brown asked the Legislature for funds for a new death row as the current death row facilities were becoming filled. At the time the non-death row prison population was decreasing, opening room for death row inmates. As of 2015[update] the San Quentin death row has a capacity of 715 prisoners.
As noted above, all executions in California, of both male and female prisoners, must occur at San Quentin. The execution chamber is located in a one-story addition in proximity to the East Block. Women executed in California would be transported to San Quentin by bus before being put to death.
The methods for execution at San Quentin have changed over time. Prior to 1893, the counties executed convicts. Between 1893 and 1937, 215 people were executed at San Quentin by hanging, after which 196 prisoners died in the gas chamber. In 1995, the use of gas for execution was ruled "cruel and unusual punishment", which led to executions inside the gas chamber by lethal injection. Between 1996 and 2006, 11 people were executed at San Quentin by lethal injection.
In April 2007, staff of the California Legislative Analyst's Office discovered that a new execution chamber was being built at San Quentin; legislators subsequently "accuse[d] the governor of hiding the project from the Legislature and the public." The old lethal injection facility had included an injection room of 43 square feet (4.0 m2) and a single viewing area; the facility that was being built included an injection chamber of 230 square feet (21 m2) and three viewing areas for family, victim, and press. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped construction of the facility the next week. The legislature later approved $180,000 to finish the project, and the facility was completed.
In addition to state executions, three federal executions have been carried out at San Quentin. Samuel Richard Shockley and Miran Edgar Thompson had been incarcerated at Alcatraz Island federal penitentiary and were executed on December 3, 1948, for the murder of two prison guards during the Battle of Alcatraz. Carlos Romero Ochoa had murdered a federal immigration officer after he was caught smuggling Mexicans across the border near El Centro, California. He was executed at San Quentin's gas chamber on December 10, 1948.
On March 13, 2019, after Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a moratorium on the state's death penalty, the state withdrew their current lethal injection protocol and San Quentin closed their execution chamber.
- VVGSQ – Vietnam Veterans Group San Quentin – Although the group had been meeting for some time, the name officially began on April 7, 1987. In 1988 they started the annual Christmas Toy giveaway, giving toys to visiting children. In 1989 they began the annual scholarship fund for high school seniors. They spend their time raising money and since 1987 have given over $80,000 to the community.
- The Last Mile started in 2011 under Chris Redlitz (entrepreneur and venture capital) initiative. The program aims to give resources and mentorship to inmates to help them find their way into tech startup entrepreneurship and reduce the rate of recidivism.
- The San Quentin Drama Workshop began at the prison in 1958 after a performance of Waiting for Godot the previous year.
- The San Quentin SQUIRES ("San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources, Experiences, and Studies") program, which began in 1964, is reported to be the "oldest juvenile awareness program in the United States." It involves inmates at the prison interacting with troubled youths for the purpose of deterring them from crime, and was the subject of a 1978 documentary film Squires of San Quentin. In 1983, a randomized controlled study was published that found that the program produced no overall reduction in delinquency. The program was still functional as of 2008.
- Since the 1920s, San Quentin inmates have been allowed to play baseball. Starting in 1994 inmates have played against players from outside the prison. The games occur twice a week through the summer. Originally the Pirates, the team of prisoners is called the "Giants" in honor of the San Francisco Giants, who donated uniforms to the team. A second team called the Athletics was later started, named after the Oakland Athletics. The team of outside players is called the "Willing". The umpires and fans are inmates, but the coaches on the field are volunteers. Although some people question the appropriateness of baseball games being held at the prison, officials believe "organized sports is a way to keep inmates occupied and perhaps teach a few lessons on getting along with others." These games were detailed in a Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel episode on June 20, 2006, and in several other documentaries.
- San Quentin has the only on-site college degree-granting program in California's entire prison system, which began in 1996 and which is currently run by the Prison University Project.
- No More Tears Program, co-founded by incarcerated men at San Quentin. This program is committed to stopping the violence in the community and changing the mindset. This program stays alive through donations, volunteers, and CDCR who come into the prison and become involved in the workshops with the incarcerated men: Changing the mindset, Response to Violence, Employability, Fixin' da Hood. All inmates and volunteers are working toward achieving the program's mission: stopping the tears of loved ones and family by being committed to stopping the youth from committing acts of violence.
- The California Reentry Program at San Quentin, begun in 2003, "helps inmates re-enter society after they serve their sentences."
- The San Quentin News is the only inmate-produced newspaper in California and one of the few in the world.
Though numerous towns and localities in the area are named after Roman Catholic saints, and "San Quintín" is Spanish for "Saint Quentin", the prison was not named after the saint. The land on which it is situated, Point Quentin, is named after a Coast Miwok warrior named Quentín, fighting under Chief Marin, who was taken prisoner at that place.
In 1851, California's first prison opened; it was a 268-ton wooden ship named The Waban, anchored in San Francisco Bay and outfitted to hold 30 inmates. After a series of speculative land transactions and a legislative scandal, inmates who were housed on the Waban constructed San Quentin which "opened in 1852 with 68 inmates." A dungeon built at San Quentin in 1854 is thought to be California's oldest surviving public work.
One example of a noteworthy leader at San Quentin, was Warden Clinton Duffy from 1940 to 1952. Warden Duffy was a man of contradictions. His public persona was quite positive because of his fresh insights informing the reorganization of the prison structure and reformation of prison management. Prior to Duffy, San Quentin had gone through years of violence, inhumane punishments and civil rights abuses against prisoners. The previous Warden was forced to resign. Duffy had the offending prison guards fired and added a librarian, psychiatrists, and several surgeons at San Quentin. Duffy's press agent published sweeping reforms, however, San Quentin remained a brutal prison where prisoners continued to be beaten to death. The use of torture as an approved method of interrogation at San Quentin was banned in 1944.
In 1941 the first prison meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous took place at San Quentin; in commemoration of this, the 25-millionth copy of the AA Big Book was presented to Jill Brown, of San Quentin, at the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
In 1947, Warden Duffy recruited Herman Spector to work as assistant Warden at San Quentin. Spector turned down the invitation to be Assistant Warden and chose instead to become Senior Librarian if he could institute his theories on reading as a program to encourage pro-social behavior. By 1955, Spector was being interviewed in Library Journals and suggesting the prison library could contribute significantly to rehabilitation.
The dining hall of the prison is adorned by six 20 ft (6.1 m) sepia toned murals depicting California history. They were painted by Alfredo Santos, one-time convicted heroin dealer and successful artist, during his 1953–1955 incarceration.
Lawrence Singleton, who raped a teenaged girl and cut off her forearms, spent a year on parole in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin between 1987 and 1988 because towns in California would not accept him as a parolee. Between 1992 and 1997, a "boot camp" was held at the prison that was intended to "rehabilitat[e] first-time, nonviolent offenders"; the program was discontinued because it did not reduce recidivism or save money.
A 2005 court-ordered report found that the prison was "old, antiquated, dirty, poorly staffed, poorly maintained with inadequate medical space and equipment and overcrowded." Later that year, the warden was fired for "threaten[ing] disciplinary action against a doctor who spoke with attorneys about problems with health care delivery at the prison." By 2007, a new trauma center had opened at the prison and a new $175 million medical complex was planned.
- Alejandro Avila: the rapist and murderer of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. Sentenced to death in 2005.
- Lawrence Bittaker: serial killer convicted of torturing and murdering five young girls. Sentenced to death in 1981.
- Vincent Brothers: convicted and sentenced to death in the shooting and stabbing of five members of his family, including three children. Sentenced to death in 2007.
- David Carpenter: the "Trailside Killer." Sentenced to death in 1984 and 1988.
- Dean Carter: serial killer convicted of murdering 4 women. Sentenced to death in 1985.
- Kevin Cooper: convicted for the hatchet and knife massacre of the Ryen family. Sentenced to death in 1985.
- Tiequon Aundray Cox: sentenced to death in 1986 for the 1984 murders of four relatives of the former defensive back NFL player Kermit Alexander. He was involved in an escape attempt in 2000.
- Jonathan Daniel D'Arcy: a janitor from Buena Park, was convicted of first-degree murder in the February 2, 1993 burning death of Karen Marie Laborde, a 42-year-old mother of two who identified D'Arcy as her assailant before she died. D'Arcy was sentenced to death in Orange County on April 11, 1997.
- Richard Allen Davis: convicted of kidnapping and murdering Polly Klaas. Sentenced to death in 1996.
- Scott Erskine: convicted of killing Jonathan Sellers, 9, and Charlie Keever, 13. Sentenced to death in 2004.
- John Famalaro: sentenced to death on September 6, 1997 for the kidnap, rape, and murder of 23-year-old Denise Anette Huber, from Newport Beach, California, in 1991. Famalaro abducted and murdered Denise on June 3, 1991. He was caught in July 1994 when police found her body in an icebox where he had kept her for 3 years.
- Richard Farley: convicted of killing seven of his co-workers and nearly killing another, a female co-worker whom he stalked after she rejected him. Sentenced to death in 1992.
- Wayne Adam Ford: convicted of killing four women in 1997 and 1998. Sentenced to death in 2006.
- Lonnie David Franklin, Jr.: convicted of ten murders and one attempted murder in Los Angeles, California. The attacker was dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" because he appeared to have taken a 14-year break from his crimes from 1988 to 2002.
- Larry Hazlett: convicted of the 1978 rape and murder of 20-year-old Rosamond beauty queen Tana Woolley. Sentenced to death in 2004.
- Eric Houston: convicted and sentenced to death for a shooting spree that left three students and a teacher dead and having 80 teens held hostage. The subject of the made-for-television movie Detention: The Siege at Johnson High.
- Ryan Hoyt: associate of Jesse James Hollywood, convicted of the murder of Nicholas Markowitz. Sentenced to death in 2003.
- Phillip Carl Jablonski: convicted of killing five women. Sentenced to death in 1991.
- Randy Kraft: serial killer who was convicted of 16 murders and suspected of 51 others. Sentenced to death in 1989.
- Jarvis Jay Masters: convicted and sentenced to death for participating in the murder of Corrections Officer Hal Burchfield. Sentenced to death in 1990.
- Glenn Taylor Helzer: founder of the "Children of Thunder" cult, alongside his brother Justin Helzer and his girlfriend Dawn Godman. Sentenced to death in 2005 for the murder of five people in 2000.
- Michael Morales: convicted for the brutal murder of Terri Winchell. Sentenced to death in 1983.
- Charles Ng: serial killer who tortured and murdered 11 people. Sentenced to death in 1999.
- Raymond Lee Oyler: convicted of setting the Esperanza Fire that claimed the lives of five firemen. Sentenced to death in 2009.
- Scott Peterson: convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci and their unborn child, Conner, in a much-publicized trial. Sentenced to death in 2005.
- Ramon Salcido: convicted in 1989 of seven murders, including six relatives and his boss. Sentenced to death in 1990.
- Vincent Sanchez: the "Simi Valley Rapist". Serial rapist convicted of 75 counts including a first degree murder charge, felony kidnapping, burglary, rape, and other sex offense charges against numerous victims. Sentenced to death in 2003.
- Mitchell Sims: convicted May 20, 1987, of the hotel-room murder of Domino's Pizza deliveryman John Harrington in Glendale; also sentenced to death in South Carolina for the murders of two Domino's employees in that state. Sentenced to death in California on September 11, 1987.
- Morris Solomon, Jr.: serial killer convicted of murdering six prostitutes in Sacramento. Sentenced to death in 1992.
- Cary Stayner: serial killer convicted of killing four women in Yosemite. Sentenced to death in 2002.
- William Suff: serial killer convicted of murdering 12 prostitutes in Riverside County. Sentenced to death in 1995.
- Regis Deon Thomas: convicted of the murders of three people including two Compton Police officers. Sentenced to death in 1995.
- Chester Turner: serial killer convicted of murdering 14 women in Los Angeles between 1987 and 1998.
- Marcus Wesson: convicted of killing nine of his family members. Sentenced to death in 2005.
- David Westerfield: convicted of kidnapping and killing seven-year-old Danielle Van Dam. Sentenced to death in 2003.
- Daniel Wozniak: convicted of murdering and dismembering Samuel Herr and then murdering Julie Kibuishi in a plot to steal money to fund his wedding. Sentenced to death in 2016.
- Bobby Beausoleil: a former associate of the Charles Manson "Family" currently serving a life sentence in prison.
- Charles Bolles: alias Black Bart, an American Old West outlaw.
- Edward Bunker: FBI most wanted fugitive who reformed and became an author (he wrote a novel set in San Quentin) and actor. Was sentenced at age 17, the youngest inmate at the time.
- Richard Chase: "vampire killer," in 1979 sentenced to death in gas chamber for murdering six people, committed suicide in 1980.
- Eldridge Cleaver: member of the Black Panther Party, was an inmate between 1958 and 1963.
- Juan Corona: convicted of killing 25 people and sentenced to life without parole. He is currently at Corcoran State Prison.
- Bruce Lisker: wrongly convicted in the 1983 murder of his mother, Dorka, when he was 17. Exonerated and released from prison in 2009, at age 44.
- Jang In-hwan: Korean independence activist who assassinated former American diplomat Durham Stevens in 1908.
- Charles Manson: leader of the Manson family. Transferred to Corcoran State Prison in 1989, where he died on November 19, 2017.
- Barry Mills: leader of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, incarcerated during the 1970s.
- Jim Mitchell, prominent in the strip club and pornography businesses in San Francisco, spent 1994–1997 in San Quentin for murdering his brother Artie.
- Ed Morrell, accomplice to the Evans-Sontag rail robbery gang; spent five years in solitary confinement; known as the "Dungeon Man" of San Quentin; pardoned in 1908 and became a well-known advocate of prison reform.
- Richard Ramirez: serial killer known as "The Night Stalker," convicted of killing 13 people. Sentenced to death in 1989. Died of liver failure on June 7, 2013, after being taken to Marin General Hospital.
- Hans Reiser: developer of the ReiserFS file system and convicted for the murder of his wife, sentenced to 15 years to life in 2008. He is currently at Mule Creek State Prison.
- Abe Ruef: San Francisco political boss, for bribery.
- Sirhan Sirhan: assassin of Robert F. Kennedy, sent to death row at San Quentin in May 1969. After the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, Sirhan was transferred to Correctional Training Facility. He is currently at Donovan State Prison.
- Danny Trejo: actor—inmate between 1965 and 1968.
- John Pence Wagner: prison evangelist-inmate between 1966 and 1972. writer of the poem featured on the rear cover of the 1971 album "Guilty!" by Jimmy Witherspoon and Eric Burdon. Died in 1999 of cancer.
- Brandon Wilson: convicted in the 1998 slashing death of nine-year-old Matthew Cecchi. Sentenced to death in 1999. Committed suicide on November 17, 2011.
- Burton Abbott: convicted of the rape and murder of a teenage girl; executed in the gas chamber on March 15, 1957.
- Clarence Ray Allen: convicted for ordering the killing of three people. At age 76, he was the oldest person ever executed in California (by lethal injection on January 17, 2006).
- Stephen Wayne Anderson: convicted murderer, executed by lethal injection on January 29, 2002.
- Manny Babbitt: convicted murderer who died by lethal injection on May 4, 1999.
- Donald Beardslee: convicted of two murders, executed by lethal injection on January 19, 2005.
- William Bonin: convicted of 14 murders, the "Freeway Killer" (one of three men to have the same nickname) became the first person in California history to be executed by lethal injection on February 23, 1996.
- Caryl Chessman: convicted rapist, was given the death penalty in 1948 and executed on May 2, 1960. The last man executed in California for a sexual offense that did not also involve murder.
- Billy Cook: murderer of Carl Mosser, his wife Thelma, their three small children and motorist Robert Dewey. He died in the gas chamber on December 12, 1952.
- Theodore Durrant: convicted of murdering two women in San Francisco. Executed by hanging on January 7, 1898.
- Harvey Glatman: convicted of raping and strangling two women, he died in the gas chamber on September 18, 1959.
- Barbara Graham: convicted murderer, executed in the gas chamber on June 3, 1955.
- Robert Alton Harris: convicted of murdering two boys, died in the gas chamber on April 21, 1992.
- Edward Hickman: convicted of kidnapping, mutilating, and murdering 12-year-old Marion Parker, died by hanging on October 19, 1928.
- Raymond "Rattlesnake James" Lisenba: convicted of killing his wife, he was the last man to be executed by hanging in California on May 1, 1942.
- David Mason: convicted of murdering five people, he was executed in the gas chamber on August 24, 1993.
- Gordon Stewart Northcott: convicted of killing three boys in the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, was hanged on October 2, 1930.
- Louise Peete: convicted murderer, executed in the gas chamber on April 11, 1947.
- Sam Shockley and Miran Edgar Thompson: convicted of killing a guard in the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz escape attempt, executed together in the gas chamber on December 3, 1948.
- Stanley "Tookie" Williams: convicted murderer, co-founder and early leader of the Crips street gang. Author (several children's books about his experience at San Quentin) and cause célèbre. Executed by lethal injection on December 13, 2005.
- San Quentin is on the rotation of prisons featured on MSNBC's show Lockup, a TV documentary series on life in prison.
Concerts and music videos
- Country music singer Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin at least twice in his career. The first was in 1958, which included among its audience members a young and incarcerated Merle Haggard; Haggard was inspired to pursue music after being released in part because of that concert. Eleven years later, on February 24, 1969, Cash played another live concert for the prison inmates. The 1969 concert was released as an album At San Quentin and as a television documentary Johnny Cash in San Quentin (filmed by Granada Television). During the concert, the song "San Quentin," about an inmate's loathing for the prison, received such an enthusiastic response that Cash immediately played an encore.
- In 1990, B. B. King recorded Live at San Quentin in the prison; it won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1991.
- Humphrey Bogart played a character who escapes from San Quentin in the 1947 film, Dark Passage.
- The 1954 film Duffy of San Quentin tells the story of Clinton Duffy, who was warden of San Quentin between 1940 and 1952.
- The 2013 film Fruitvale Station used the prison, in which real life character Oscar Grant did time, as a filming location for a flashback scene. Actual prisoners served as extras.
- William Beaudine directed the film Men of San Quentin (1942).
- In 1968, the prison scenes in Woody Allen's film Take the Money and Run were shot in San Quentin.
- In the 2018 Marvel Studios film Venom, where the serial killer Cletus Kasady (later known as Carnage) is imprisoned. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) visits him to conduct an interview in this post-credits scene.
Fiction, literature and publications
- Gang-pulp author Margie Harris wrote a story on San Quentin for the short-lived pulp magazine Prison Stories. The story, titled "Big House Boomerang," appeared in the March 1931 issue. It used San Quentin's brutal jute mill as its setting. Harris' knowledge of the prison came from her days as a newspaper reporter in the Bay Area, and her acquaintance with famous San Quentin prisoner Ed Morrell.
- San Quentin Six: the six inmates who were accused of participating in the August 21, 1971 escape attempt that left six people dead.
- Films set in San Quentin State Prison
- The Last Mile (prison rehabilitation program)
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The San Quentin News staff produce a 20-page paper that matches any outside publication in quality and depth of reporting although, unlike most publications, the subject matter focuses on the world within the walls of San Quentin: sports rivalries, notable staff retirements, and the success of rehabilitative programs
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to San Quentin State Prison.|
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. News Accessed 6 January 2008.
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Official website
- Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Life on death row at San Quentin Prison.
- Clark, Richard. The gas chamber. Accessed 6 January 2008.
- Online Archive of California. Views of San Quentin Prison and Events, ca. 1925–1935.
- San Quentin News California's only inmate-produced newspaper.
- San Quentin State Prison Official webpage
- San Quentin State Prison Video Clip
- San Quentin T.R.U.S.T., to "motivate, educate, prepare and assist men in prison"
- Urban Strategies Council. San Quentin Community and Prison Health Project.
- San Quentin News Sanquentinblog.com