Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
By Laurel Spear
SAN QUENTIN, CA— California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed a new plan to transform San Quentin State Prison into an education, training, and rehabilitation facility. Under the new plan, the prison will be renamed San Quentin Rehabilitation Center, and prisoners currently serving sentences there will be moved to other facilities in the California penitentiary system.
San Quentin is infamous for being home to the largest death row population in the country and is the oldest prison in California, established in 1852. In the 1960s and 70s, San Quentin was the site of violent uprisings, and it has housed high-profile criminals like cult leader Charles Manson as well as convicted serial killers and murderers.
Although California still technically has the death penalty, in 2019, Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions. This executive order also called to immediately close the execution chamber at San Quentin, but did not release any individuals from prison.
In 2022, Newsom first announced that some prisoners would be moved from San Quentin to other prisons in California. Newsom has allocated $20 million to launch the “California Model” in which a group of public safety experts, formerly incarcerated people, and crime victims will advise the project.
Newsom’s office cited research showing that every dollar spent on rehabilitation saves more than $4 on recidivism costs, and people who enroll in educational programs in prison are 43% less likely to be reincarcerated after release.
“Today, we take the next step in our pursuit of true rehabilitation, justice, and safer communities through this evidenced-backed investment, creating a new model for safety and justice — the California Model — that will lead the nation,” Newsom said.
San Quentin Rehabilitation Facility represents a fundamental shift away from “tough on crime” punitive measures towards Scandinavian models of reintegrative incarceration. The new rehabilitation facility will follow Norway’s approach to incarceration focusing on helping people easily transition to society following their time in prison.
Norway currently has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world “where approximately three in four formerly incarcerated people don’t return to a life of crime,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
As prisoners’ last stop before reintegrating into society, San Quentin would prepare inmates for reentering the workforce through vocational training programs. Vocational programs in the rehabilitation facility would focus on training inmates for jobs such as plumbing, electrical work, or as truck drivers.
Currently, San Quentin houses Mount Tamalpais College, the first accredited junior college entirely behind bars. Here, inmates can take classes in astronomy, government and economy, literature, and many other subjects to earn their Associate of Arts degree. The college is privately funded through donations and much of the faculty is volunteers from nearby universities including Stanford and the UC Berkeley.
Newsom has not commented on how the renovations at San Quentin will affect Mount Tamalpais or whether the college programs offered will be expanded when the prison becomes a rehabilitation facility.
Laurel is currently a junior at UC Berkeley studying Political Science with an emphasis on International Relations. She is from Los Angeles and outside of school, she enjoys cooking, snowboarding, painting, and going to concerts.