California governor plans to turn oldest state prison into ‘rehab facility’

California governor plans to turn oldest state prison into ‘rehab facility’

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California Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a plan to turn the state’s oldest prison into a rehabilitation, education and training facility, modeled on Norway’s much less restrictive incarceration systems. American establishments.

Newsom told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday that his goal was to “end San Quentin [prison] as we know it” and working to “completely reinvent what prison means”. San Quentin, located on a peninsula in San Francisco Bay and established in 1852, is home to nearly 4,000 people, including hundreds on its infamous death row, the largest in the United States, which is about to to be dismantled.

The Democratic governor said that by 2025 he plans to transform the massive penitentiary into a permanent end to incarceration before the release of individuals, with a focus on vocational training for trades, including plumbers, electricians or truck drivers, the LA Times reported. Its recently released budget proposal includes $20 million to start the effort.

“The ‘California model’ the governor is implementing in San Quentin will incorporate programs and best practices from countries like Norway, which has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world – where about three out of four people formerly incarcerated do not return to a life of crime,” the governor’s office said in a statement Thursday. The jail will be renamed the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center.

Instructor Douglas Arnwine returns papers with comments to his students at San Quentin State Prison in April 2022.
Instructor Douglas Arnwine returns papers with comments to his students at San Quentin State Prison in April 2022. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

The transformation described by Newsom would mark, at least for San Quentin, a fundamental change from the extremely punitive American system. The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world, with nearly 2 million people behind bars at any one time; Beginning in the 1980s, the population of state prisons began to increase dramatically across the country as “tough on crime” efforts created long, indefinite mandatory sentences and locked youths up for life.

Although California is considered a leader in criminal justice reform, the state’s prison system continues to be overcrowded, with thousands of elderly people languishing behind bars and black residents imprisoned disproportionate for decades due to tough sentencing laws passed in the 1990s.

The Scandinavian models of incarceration that have received increasing attention from some U.S. lawmakers are less punishment-oriented and aim to provide those imprisoned with support and a sense of normal life behind bars so that they are ready to reintegrate into society. This can mean access to personal computers, televisions and showers, consistent classes and programs, fresh food, greater freedom of movement, and stronger connections to the outside world.

“Do you want them to come back with humanity and a bit of normality, or do you want them to come back more bitter and more downcast?” Newsom told the LA Times.

San Quentin Prison students examining an image of The Falling Man
Newsom plans to turn San Quentin State Prison into a facility where prisoners can receive education, training, and rehabilitation before reentering society. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

A redesign of San Quentin would be a huge undertaking, and there are significant unanswered questions about what the transition would mean for its current residents as well as the tens of thousands of others located in the California Department of Corrections and Corrections. rehabilitation (CDCR). San Quentin has a long and recent history of scandals involving abuse, overcrowding, guard misconduct, and medical negligence. It’s also a prison that has far more programming than some of CDCR’s remote and rural prisons, with a renowned podcast produced by incarcerated journalists from San Quentin.

The governor’s office noted research showing that every dollar spent on rehab saves more than $4 in reincarceration costs; that people who enroll in education programs behind bars are 43% less likely to return to prison; and that crime survivor groups say victims prefer sentences that include programs designed to prevent recidivism. Helping people “return to their communities as productive members of society” is essential in a state where about 35,000 people are released from prison each year, the office added.

Newsom said this type of transformation has never been pursued on this scale in the United States and that he hopes San Quentin will be a model for the nation.

James King, co-director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, who spent six years in prison in San Quentin, said it was good to see a push to prioritize rehabilitation, but was skeptical about the capacity of the CDCR to fundamentally reinvent itself. .

“The culture of the CDCR and the [correctional officers’ union] is hugely biased against incarcerated people, and it will take a lot more than a policy change to change that,” he said, adding that the San Quentin facilities are over 100 years old and were not designed for classes, programming and environments that promote healing. “I don’t know if there’s a feasible way to have people trained by CDCR, who are rooted in a way of being very discriminatory towards the people they incarcerate, to facilitate a culture change.”

He said he hoped to see the governor continue to close more prisons and push for alternatives to incarceration and sentencing reforms that allow people to go home: “There is no human way to hold people captive. The answer to creating safer communities does not lie in building better prisons. Prisons are fundamentally harmful to our society and to any notion of justice or security.

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