By Dell Dumont
Under Governor Gavin Newsom, California is making plans to transfer inmates on death row into general prison populations permanent and mandatory. This initiative comes after the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) successful pilot program that voluntarily moved 101 inmates off death row and into general prison populations across the state.
After a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing in March, the state hopes to start moving all 671 death row inmates — 650 men and 21 women — into several other prisons across the state with high-security units. Some prisoners will get jobs or cellmates if they are sent into the general prison population. Those who get prison jobs — as clerks, laundry or kitchen helpers – will see 70 percent of their pay go to victims’ families, as required under Proposition 66. The 2016 voter-passed initiative amended California’s Penal Code to require death-sentenced inmates to work and pay restitution.
The effort aligns with Gov. Newsom’s belief that the death penalty in America is unjust, racially and class biased, and has little connection to justice. “The prospect of ending up on death row has more to do with your wealth and race than it does your guilt or innocence,” the Democratic governor said last year. “Think about that. We talk about justice, we preach justice. But as a nation, we don’t practice it on death row.”
The CDCR says the move allows the state “to phase out the practice of segregating people on death row based solely on their sentence.” No inmates will have their sentences reinstated and no death row commutations will be offered, officials say.
Anti-capital punishment groups are elated that the state with the largest condemned population is moving forward with efforts to, in effect, join the 23 other states that have abolished their death rows. In recent years governors in Pennsylvania and Oregon also have imposed moratoriums on the death penalty. 37 states have abolished the death penalty altogether or have not executed anyone in at least a decade — and those that are still actively carrying it out are concentrated in the South.
As of December, there were still 692 people on death row in California, more than twice as many as in Florida, which had the second-most prisoners awaiting execution. Prosecutors and juries in California have continued sentencing people to death, even though the state has not executed anyone since 2006.
(Source: NPR, NY Times)