Outrage and frustration are mounting over California Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to transform the infamous San Quentin prison into a rehabilitation center. Critics are accusing him of secrecy and lack of transparency in the process. Republican lawmakers and prison advocates are demanding more information about the $360 million project, which aims to turn the prison into a college-like facility with amenities like a student union and a coffee shop for inmates. Brian Kaneda of the criminal justice reform coalition CURB called this investment in new prison infrastructure “a step in the wrong direction.”
Newsom hand-picked a 21-member advisory council, including officials from San Quentin and his political allies, to shape the new facility’s design. However, the group has held secret meetings, and the contents of their discussions have not been disclosed. This lack of public accessibility is a significant concern for many. Although the council has promised a preliminary report in September, skepticism remains.
This secrecy, coupled with the massive price tag, has raised eyebrows, especially considering California’s $32 billion deficit. Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a member of the budget subcommittee on public safety, highlighted the minimal communication from Newsom’s office and questioned how lawmakers can provide oversight under these circumstances.
Gavin Newsom's secret $360 million plan to revamp San Quentin prison https://t.co/YwTsKT3ZxA
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) September 4, 2023
Governor Newsom aims to change the public’s perception of San Quentin by focusing on education and job skills for inmates. He envisions a transformed San Quentin as a place that turns out good neighbors and adopts Scandinavian methods. The inspiration for this transformation comes from officials’ visits to Norwegian prisons, where inmates have access to furniture, kitchen facilities, and even TVs. Oregon and North Dakota have already implemented similar policies. Following the renovations, the prison will be renamed the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center, and over 500 death row inmates will be transferred to other facilities across the state.
However, former inmates and advocates like Thanh Tran are concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding the project. Tran, who spent four years in San Quentin, criticized the governor for giving unfettered power to the advisory council, which meets in secret, leaving the public in the dark. State lawmakers initially laughed at the $360 million price tag but ultimately signed off on the project without oversight or accountability. This decision has further fueled frustrations among critics.