Over 700 inmates on California’s death row may become eligible to transfer to other high-security prisons but be housed with non-condemned inmates. The death row inmates would be permitted to take part in rehabilitation programs after their transfer. The transfer does not remove the death sentence, but it does allow the death row inmates more freedom off death row.
Unintended Consequences of California Proposition 66
When voters in California passed Proposition 66 in 2016, they intended to speed up the appeals process for death row inmates. Yet, the proposition had unintended consequences.
The intent of the proposition was to produce quicker executions. The proposition called for assigning appeals to trial court judges and assigning extra lawyers for death sentence appeals.
The appeals process for death row inmates could take up to 25 years or longer, under the old rules. Supporters argued that shortening the time would save the taxpayers millions of dollars each year and give families of victims the justice they deserved.
Proposition 66 limits the time frame for appeals of death sentences to five years. The California Supreme Court upheld the initiative as Constitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the requirements to speed up the appeals process for death row inmates was a directive and not mandates.
The problem arises with some of the specific measures included in the initiative. In addition to accomplishing some of its goals, Proposition 66 resulted in the ability of some inmates on death row to transfer off death row. They will spend their time in other facilities housed with non-death row inmates.
Proponents of the death penalty argue that this was not their intention. There is no need to rehabilitate condemned inmates because they will not re-enter society unless their appeal is successful or they receive a pardon. For that reason, many supporters are now unhappy that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is beginning a pilot program for moving death row inmates off death row.
Moving Death Row Inmates Out of San Quentin
The CDCR confirmed that it would begin enforcing the rehousing portion of Proposition 66 through a pilot program. The condemned inmate transfer program allows the CDCR to transfer death row inmates from San Quentin to facilities that have appropriate security levels. Inmates eligible for the program are transferred to one of the state’s eight less costly prison facilities. These facilities provide rehabilitative services for inmates, including transferred death row inmates.
The pilot program is voluntary. A death row inmate must request the transfer to become eligible. After a request is received, the CDCR reviews the inmate’s risk factors for transfer.
Risk factors include the inmate’s medical, security, and psychiatric needs. It also includes the security required to transfer and house the inmate in a different facility. An inmate’s history while incarcerated is also a factor in whether an inmate will qualify for transfer off of death row.
The pilot program lasts for two years. During those two years, the CDCR intends to track the safety records, jobs, and behavior of death row inmates transferred to other facilities.
As part of the provisions of Proposition 66, death row inmates are allowed to work and earn a small amount for their work. The majority of the money earned by death row inmates is paid as restitution to the families of their victims.
Proposition Also Applies to Women On Death Row
The provisions that allow death row inmates to transfer off death row applies to the 22 women currently sentenced to death in California. Female death row inmates are housed at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
Women on death row will not be eligible to transfer to another women’s prison because of security reasons. They will be eligible to transfer off of death row and remain at Chowchilla. Transferring off death row allows the women to take part in the rehabilitation programs at Chowchilla.
Moratorium on Executions in California
There is currently a pause of executions in California. Governor Newsom halted executions in the state on March 13, 2019, by signing an Executive Order. The Executive Order also closed the state’s execution chamber.
California has not executed anyone on death row since 2006. Several propositions to end death sentences have been defeated in the past few years. However, there appears to be growing support for ending capital punishment in California.
As advocacy groups continue to fight for the end of the death sentence, it is unclear what will happen to death row inmates in California. Criminal defense lawyers continue to watch developments from Proposition 66 to determine how that initiative and other capital punishment initiatives impact their client’s cases and future.