California Moves to Dismantle Nation’s Largest Death Row

The state of California is moving to dismantle the largest death row in the United States. California Governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on executions three years ago. 

California will now begin moving the 700 plus condemned inmates sitting on death row to other prisons within the next two years. 

Newsom said that the goal is to turn the section that was death row at San Quentin State Prison into a new rehabilitation space, one that is a “positive, healing environment.”  He said that the system is deeply flawed, and this is an effort to outgrow it. California’s execution chamber has been closed since Newsom stopped executions in 2019. 

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Vicky Waters said that the process is innovative, and anchored in the idea of rehabilitation. 

The last time California carried out an execution was 2006. It is one of 28 states that still has a death row, along with a federal death row of the U.S. government. Some states have abolished executions, for example, New York and Illinois. California is merging inmates that were condemned to death row into a general prison population, and giving no expectation that they will face execution. 

This is not the first time a state has dismantled its death row in this manner. Neighboring state Oregon took a similar approach two years ago, moving its much smaller death row inmate population to other prison housing. 

Twenty three states have abolished the death penalty, with Virginia and Colorado the two most recent states to do so. 

The Department of Justice had not carried out a federal execution for nearly two decades until 2020, when then-president Donald Trump’s Department of Justice resumed federal executions, and executed 13 inmates. President Joe Biden placed a moratorium on federal executions once he became president. 

The move by California comes while there is a renewed debate nationwide over the death penalty, all the way up to the Supreme Court justice. Last week, the Supreme Court cleared the path for the execution of an Alabama death row inmate.

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