California Death Row Dispersal

Earlier this month we noted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s pilot program to disperse death-sentenced inmates away from death row. This authority was given to CDCR in Proposition 66 to defuse the abolition advocates’ argument that keeping them in San Quentin was much more expensive than it would cost to house the same murderers if they were not sentenced to death. CDCR now has an information page on its website further explaining the pilot program.

Part of the reason that housing in San Quentin is more expensive, I am told, is that an old consent decree provides minimum cell sizes per inmate, with a higher allotment for death-sentenced inmates than for others. California’s oldest prison has smaller cells, less than double the minimum size for death-sentenced inmates, so they have to be single-celled as long as they are there. In other prisons with larger cells they can be double-celled, where their security classification allows that. The information page confirms that “upon arrival at a CITPP-designated institution, they will be evaluated just like any other inmate to determine whether they can be safely housed with another person.”

The opposing death-penalty repeal initiative on the same ballot as Proposition 66 had a work and restitution requirement. Its proponents argued that if only these murderers were not sentenced to death they could be made to work and to pay restitution to the victims’ families. Personally, I thought that was a weak argument. They are never going to earn enough to pay any significant restitution, and the greatest security risks can’t be allowed to work at all. Even so, to nullify the claim that death-sentenced status makes the difference Proposition 66 included work and restitution requirements for death-sentenced inmates. The information page says:

Condemned inmates have limited opportunities to work. Under the CITPP, participants will be reviewed for work and program assignments and will be classified similar to people serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Their job assignment eligibility will depend on these limitations and other case factors. LWOP inmates perform a variety of jobs throughout institutions, including maintenance and administrative duties, and participate in rehabilitative programs.

In addition, CITPP participants will be designated close custody. This status is reserved for inmates who require more intensive supervision but do not warrant placement in segregated housing. These inmates are counted more often during the day, and receive constant supervision during activities.

The page still does not say why participation is voluntary, a question raised when the program was announced.