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Newsom unveils plan to reimagine San Quentin prison into rehabilition model

Gov. Newsom tells San Quentin inmates the prison will be transformed
Gov. Newsom tells San Quentin inmates the prison will be transformed 03:49

SAN QUENTIN -- California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a plan Friday to transform the iconic San Quentin State Prison and its notorious Death Row from a place of punishment toward more of a rehabilitation and re-entry facility.

Built in 1852, it is the oldest prison in California, and at one point held the largest active death row in the United States. Now, San Quentin will be reimagined - and even renamed - as part of a rehabilitation effort that has never been tried on the scale in this country.

"Being incarcerated, I would've never imagined having a camera in my hands," explained Edmond Richardson with the San Quentin Media Center. "Learning how to do film."

Among the journalists covering the governor's announcement, Richardson and Dante Jones, both serving sentences here at San Quentin while also serving in the prison news operation, one of some 80 different programs offered here, all with the hope of keeping inmates out of prison once they're released.

Governor Gavin Newsom greets inmates at San Quentin State Prison, March 17, 2023 CBS

 "We're the only incarcerated film crew in the nation," Richardson said of the program.

"No one who's been in this media center has come back to jail, has come back to prison, has been re-arrested," Jones said. "Hasn't gotten a ticket for that matter, right? So this place is all about rehabilitation."

"Two-thirds of folks, the senator says, coming out of the prisons every single year, or at least within three years, violate some probation order," Newsom said of the state's recidivism problem. "Commit another damn crime. I mean, two-thirds. And we perpetuate that system and we call that system some kind of public safety. Where is the public safety in that?"

The goal is to turn San Quentin into a kind of re-entry platform. Death Row will be dismantled and entire portions of the prison would be rebuilt for classroom and workshop space for expanded programs. 

"They provide the necessary skills that we need to reintegrate back into society," Richardson said of the educational and job training programs.

The last execution at San Quentin was in 2006; Newsom ordered a moratorium on California executions in 2019 

"What if we took this facility," Newsom said of the warehouse that held his remarks. "81,000 feet, and reimagined this and scaled the work."

The governor rejected any direct comparison to the so-called Scandinavian prison model. He talked about a California model that will borrow some of those ideas, but be more tailored to the state's needs.

"We want to be the preeminent restorative justice facility in the world," Newsom added. "That's the goal. San Quentin is iconic. San Quentin is known worldwide. If San Quentin can do it, it can be done anywhere else. We say it all the time, once a mind is stretched it never goes back to its original form."

"I hope he comes and I hope he really does implement this and show that incarcerated people are more than their crimes," Jones said. "And what they can do more and they can do more and have second chances and get out there and be productive citizens."

With things like the news team, and the theater group, San Quentin has long been on the cutting edge of rehabilitation programs, so this fits with the tradition here. The next phase will start with $20 million for the planning of the transformation. The governor says he hopes to see some kind of results by the year 2025.

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