San Quentin State Prison: Wikis


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San Quentin State Prison (SQ)
Location San Quentin, California
Coordinates 37°56′15″N 122°29′21″W / 37.9375°N 122.4891°W / 37.9375; -122.4891Coordinates: 37°56′15″N 122°29′21″W / 37.9375°N 122.4891°W / 37.9375; -122.4891
Status Operational
Security class Minimum-maximum
Capacity 3,302
Population 5,247 (159%) (as of fy 2008/09[1])
Opened July 1852
Managed by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Director Robert K. Wong, Warden (acting)

San Quentin State Prison is a state prison in San Quentin, Marin County, California. Opened in July 1852, it is the oldest prison in the state. California's only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison.[2][3] It has a gas chamber, but since 1996, executions at the prison have been carried out by lethal injection. The prison has been featured on film, video, and television; is the subject of many books; has hosted concerts; and has housed many notorious inmates.



The correctional complex sits on Point San Quentin, which comprises 432 acres (175 ha) of desirable waterfront real estate overlooking the north side of San Francisco Bay. The prison complex itself occupies 275 acres (111 ha), valued in a 2001 study at between $129 million and $664 million.[4]

The prison complex has its own ZIP Code for mail sent to inmates, 94974;[5] the ZIP Code of the adjacent community of Point San Quentin Village is 94964.[6] It is bordered by San Francisco Bay to the south and west and by Interstate 580 to the north and east, near the northern terminus of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

As of December 2008, the prison had a design capacity of 3,082 but a total institution population of 5,256, for an occupancy rate of 170.5 percent.[7] It has Level I ("Open dormitories without a secure perimeter") housing; Level II ("Open dormitories with secure perimeter fences and armed coverage") housing; a Reception Center (RC) which "provides short term housing to process, classify and evaluate incoming inmates"; and a Condemned unit.[2][8]

As of Fiscal Year 2006/2007, the prison had 1,718 staff and an annual budget of $210 million. It is one of the largest prisons in the United States with a population of 5,222 inmates as of December 2008.[2]

Death row

Men condemned to death (with some exceptions) must be held at San Quentin, while condemned women are held at Central California Women's Facility.[9] As of December 2008, San Quentin held 637 male inmates in its Condemned unit, or "death row."[10] As of 2001, San Quentin's death row was described as "the largest in the Western Hemisphere"[11]; as of 2005, it was called "the most populous execution antechamber in the United States."[3] The states of Florida and Texas had fewer death row inmates in 2008 (397 and 373 respectively) than San Quentin.[12]

The death row at San Quentin is divided into three sections: the quiet "North-Segregation" or "North-Seg," built in 1934, for prisoners who "don't cause trouble"; the "East Block," a "crumbling, leaky maze of a place built in 1927"; and the "Adjustment Center" for the "worst of the worst."[3] Although $395 million was allocated in the 2008-2009 state budget for new death row facilities at San Quentin, in December 2008 two legislators introduced bills to eliminate the funding.[10]


All executions in California must occur at San Quentin.[9] The methods for execution at San Quentin have changed over time. Between 1893 and 1937, 215 people were executed at San Quentin by hanging, after which 196 prisoners died in the gas chamber.[3] In 1995, the use of gas for execution was ruled "cruel and unusual punishment," which led to executions inside the gas chamber by lethal injection.[3] Between 1996 and 2006, 11 people were executed at San Quentin by lethal injection.[13]

In April 2007, staff of the California Legislative Analyst's Office discovered that a new execution chamber was being built at San Quentin; legislators subsequently "accuse[d] the governor of hiding the project from the Legislature and the public."[14] The old lethal injection facility had included an injection room of 43 square feet and a single viewing area; the facility that was being built included an injection chamber of 230 square feet and three viewing areas for family, victim, and press.[15] Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped construction of the facility the next week.[16] The Legislature later approved $180,000 to finish the project, and the facility was completed.[17][18]


  • The San Quentin Drama Workshop began at the prison in 1958 after a performance of Waiting for Godot the previous year.[19]
  • The San Quentin SQUIRES ("San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources, Experiences, and Studies") program, which began in 1964, is reported to be the "oldest juvenile awareness program in the United States."[20][21] It involves inmates at the prison interacting with troubled youths for the purpose of deterring them from crime, and was the subject of a 1978 documentary film Squires of San Quentin.[21][22] In 1983, a randomized controlled study was published that found that the program produced no overall reduction in delinquency.[21] The program was still functional as of 2008.[23]
  • Since the 1920s, San Quentin inmates have been allowed to play baseball.[24] Starting in 1994, however, inmates have played against players from outside the prison.[25] The games occur twice a week through the summer.[26] The team of prisoners is called the "Giants" in honor of the San Francisco Giants, who donated uniforms to the team, and the team of outside players is called the "Willing".The umpires and fans are inmates, but the coaches on the field are volunteers.[26][24] Although some people question the appropriateness of baseball games being held at the prison, officials believe "organized sports is a way to keep inmates occupied and perhaps teach a few lessons on getting along with others."[24] These games were detailed in a Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel episode on June 20, 2006.[25]
  • San Quentin has the only on-site college degree-granting program in California's entire prison system, which began in 1996 and which is currently run by the Prison University Project.[27][28]
  • No More Tears Program, co-founded by incarcerated men at San Quentin. This program is committed to stopping the violence in the community and changing the mindset. This program stays alive through donations, volunteers, and CDCR who come into the prison and become involved in the workshops with the incarcerated men: Changing the mindset, Response to Violence, Employability, Fixin' da Hood. All inmates and volunteers are working toward achieving the programs mission: stopping the tears of loved ones and family by being committed to stopping the youth from committing acts of violence. [29]
  • The California Reentry Program at San Quentin, begun in 2003, "helps inmates re-enter society after they serve their sentences."[30]


The sprawling San Quentin prison complex.

Although numerous towns and localities in the area are named for Roman Catholic saints, and "San Quintín" is Spanish for "Saint Quentin", the prison is not in fact named after the saint. The land on which it is situated, Point Quentin, is named after a Coast Miwok warrior named Quentín, fighting under Chief Marin, who was taken prisoner at that place.[31][32]

In 1851, California's first prison opened; it was a 268-ton wooden ship named The Waban, anchored in San Francisco Bay and outfitted to hold 30 inmates.[33][34] Subsequently, inmates who were housed on the Waban constructed San Quentin which "opened in 1852 with 68 inmates."[35] A dungeon built at San Quentin in 1854 is thought to be California's oldest surviving public work.[36]

The prison held both male and female inmates until 1932 when the original California Institution for Women prison at Tehachapi was built. In 1941 the first prison meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous took place at San Quentin; in commemoration of this, the 25-millionth copy of the A.A. "Big Book" was presented to Jill Brown, of San Quentin, at the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The use of torture as an approved method of interrogation at San Quentin was banned in 1944.[35]

Alfredo Santos, one-time convicted heroin dealer and successful artist, painted six remarkable, 20 ft (6.1 m) sepia toned murals during his 1953-1955 incarceration that have hung in the dining hall of the prison.[37][38]

Lawrence Singleton, who raped a teenaged girl and cut off her forearms, spent a year on parole in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin between 1987 and 1988 because towns in California would not accept him as a parolee.[39] Between 1992 and 1997, a "boot camp" was held at the prison that was intended to "rehabilitat[e] first-time, nonviolent offenders"; the program was discontinued because it did not reduce recidivism or save money.[40]

A 2005 court-ordered report found that the prison was "old, antiquated, dirty, poorly staffed, poorly maintained with inadequate medical space and equipment and overcrowded."[41] Later that year, the warden was fired for "threaten[ing] disciplinary action against a doctor who spoke with attorneys about problems with health care delivery at the prison."[42] By 2007, a new trauma center had opened at the prison and a new $175 million medical complex was planned.[43]

Notable inmates


San Quentin up close.
  • Alejandro Avila - rapist and murderer of five-year-old Samantha Runnion. Sentenced to death in 2005.[44]
  • Lawrence Bittaker - serial killer convicted of torturing and murdering 5 young women. Sentenced to death in 1981.[44]
  • Vincent Brothers - convicted and sentenced to death in the shooting and stabbing of 5 members of his family, including 3 children. Sentenced to death in 2007.[44]
  • David Carpenter - the "Trailside Killer."[3] Sentenced to death in 1984 and 1988.[44]
  • Dean Carter - serial killer convicted of murdering 4 women. Sentenced to death in 1985.[45]
  • Douglas Clark- the "Sunset Strip" killer. Convicted with Carol Bundy of multiple murders in Los Angeles. Sentenced to death in 1983.
  • Kevin Cooper - convicted for the hatchet and knife massacre of the Ryen family. Sentenced to death in 1985.[44]
  • Tiequon Aundray Cox - sentenced to death in 1986 for the 1984 murders of four relatives of the former defensive back NFL player Kermit Alexander.[46] He was involved in an escape attempt in 2000.[47]
  • Richard Allen Davis - convicted of kidnapping and murdering Polly Klaas.[3] Sentenced to death in 1996.[44]
  • Skylar Deleon- convicted of the murder of Thomas and Jackie Hawks. Sentenced to death in 2009.
  • Scott Erskine - convicted of killing Jonathan Sellers, 10, and Charlie Keever, 13. Sentenced to death in 2004.[44]
  • Richard Farley - convicted of killing seven of his co-workers and nearly killing another, a female co-worker whom he stalked after she rejected him. Sentenced to death in 1992.[44]
  • Ryan Hoyt - associate of Jesse James Hollywood, convicted of the murder of Nicholas Markowitz. Sentenced to death in 2003.[44]
  • Randy Kraft - serial killer who was convicted of 16 murders and suspected of 51 others. Sentenced to death in 1989.[44]
  • Jarvis Jay Masters - convicted and sentenced to death for participating in the murder of Corrections Officer Hal Burchfield. Sentenced to death in 1990.[44]
  • Michael Morales - convicted for the brutal murder of Terri Winchell. Sentenced to death in 1983.[44]
  • Charles Ng - serial killer who tortured and murdered 11 people. Sentenced to death in 1999.[44]
  • Raymond Lee Oyler- convicted of setting the Esperanza Fire that claimed the lives of 5 firemen. Sentenced to death in 2009.[48]
  • Scott Peterson - convicted murderer of his pregnant wife, Laci and their unborn child, Conner. Sentenced to death in 2005.[44]
  • Richard Ramirez - serial killer known as "The Night Stalker"[3]; convicted of killing 13 people. Sentenced to death in 1989.[49]
  • Ramon Salcido- convicted in 1989 of seven murders, including six relatives and his boss. Sentenced to death in 1990.[citation needed]
  • David Anthony Silva - convicted on multiple counts of home invasion robberies involving torture etc.; in 2007, sentenced to "521 years, plus 11 consecutive life terms"[50]; interviewed in a 2008 British documentary about the prison; incorrectly called "David Silver" in some newsmedia accounts.[51][52]
  • Morris Solomon Jr. - serial killer convicted of murdering 6 prostitutes in Sacramento. Sentenced to death in 1992.[44]
  • Cary Stayner - convicted murderer who killed 4 women in Yosemite. Sentenced to death in 2002.[44]
  • William Suff - serial killer convicted of murdering 12 prostitutes in Riverside County. Sentenced to death in 1995.[44]
  • Chester Turner - serial killer convicted of murdering 10 women in Los Angeles between 1987 and 1998..[44]
  • Marcus Wesson - convicted of killing nine of his family members. Sentenced to death in 2005.[44]
  • David Westerfield - convicted of kidnapping and killing 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam. Sentenced to death in 2003.[44]
  • Brandon Wilson - convicted in the 1998 slashing death of nine-year-old Matthew Cecchi. Sentenced to death in 1999.[44]



The San Quentin gas chamber originally employed lethal cyanide gas for the purpose of carrying out capital punishment. The chamber was converted to an execution chamber where lethal injection was used. Subsequently a new lethal injection chamber was built.

San Quentin in media


  1. ^ San Quentin State Prison (SQ) (2009). "Institution Statistics". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  2. ^ a b c San Quentin State Prison (SQ) (2009). "Mission Statement". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Fimrite, Peter (20 November 2005). "Inside death row. At San Quentin, 647 condemned killers wait to die in the most populous execution antechamber in the United States". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  4. ^ Department of General Services (June 2001). Preliminary Analysis of Potential Reuse and Relocation of San Quentin Prison. State of California. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  5. ^ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. How to contact an inmate. Accessed January 6, 2009.
  6. ^ Wood, Jim. Point San Quentin Village. Arguably, Marin's most unique community. Marin Magazine, November 2007. Accessed January 9, 2009.
  7. ^ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Monthly report of population as of midnight December 31, 2008.
  8. ^ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California's correctional facilities. November 24, 2008.
  9. ^ a b Legislative Counsel of California. Penal Code section 3600-3607. Accessed January 13, 2009.
  10. ^ a b Egelko, Bob. 2 lawmakers team up to oppose new Death Row. San Francisco Chronicle, December 17, 2008. Accessed January 13, 2009.
  11. ^ Nieves, Evelyn. Rash of violence disrupts San Quentin's death row. New York Times, May 22, 2001. Accessed January 13, 2009.
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  13. ^ Zimmers, Teresa A., et al. Lethal injection for execution: chemical asphyxiation? PLoS Medicine, April 24, 2007. Accessed January 16, 2009.
  14. ^ Martin, Mark. New execution chamber infuriates lawmakers. Facility at San Quentin was built quietly. San Francisco Chronicle, April 14, 2007. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  15. ^ State of California lethal injection protocol. Accessed January 16, 2009.
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  17. ^ Chorneau, Tom. Death chamber delayed by budget standoff, may miss Oct. 1 deadline. San Francisco Chronicle, August 7, 2007. Accessed January 16, 2009.
  18. ^ Mintz, Howard. State decides to seek public input on execution plan. San Jose Mercury News, January 6, 2009. Accessed January 16, 2009.
  19. ^ Berton, Justin. When 'Waiting for Godot' played San Quentin. San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 2008. Accessed January 10, 2009.
  20. ^ City Youth Now. Programs. SQUIRES. Accessed January 10, 2009.
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  22. ^ Squires of San Quentin at the Internet Movie Database
  23. ^ Hindery, Robin. Lessons through life. Daily Democrat (Woodland, CA), February 24, 2008.
  24. ^ a b c Kosa, Frank. Prison baseball team gives inmates a focus beyond their cells. Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 2008.
  25. ^ a b Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Episode 111. Story 2: A Game of Years. June 20, 2006. Accessed January 2, 2009.
  26. ^ a b Souders, Travis. San Quentin baseball offers local team, inmates perspective. Chico Enterprise-Record, August 10, 2008. Accessed January 2, 2009.
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  29. ^ No More Tears. No More Tears Program Accessed November 15, 2009.
  30. ^ Moody, Shelah. California Reentry Program gives ex-cons a second chance. San Francisco Chronicle, December 9, 2007. Accessed January 12, 2009.
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  34. ^ Ewell, Miranda. "San Quentin Sets Its History Free. Famed Prison To Detail Its Past In New Museum." San Jose Mercury News. May 27, 1991.
  35. ^ a b c Reed, Dan. "Killer Location May Doom San Quentin Prison." San Jose Mercury News. August 20, 2001.
  36. ^ Brown, Patricia Leigh. San Quentin journal. Prison makes way for future, but preserves past. New York Times, January 18, 2008. Accessed January 7, 2009.
  37. ^ Russell, Ron. "Hidden Treasure: Half a century ago, ex-heroin dealer Alfredo Santos created an epic work of art inside San Quentin." SF Weekly. July 23, 2003.
  38. ^ Hall, Christopher. A prisoner with a paintbrush, a legacy at risk. New York Times, August 19, 2007. Accessed January 3, 2009.
  39. ^ Taylor, Michael. [ Lawrence Singleton, despised rapist, dies. He chopped off teenager's arms in 1978.] San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2002. Accessed January 14, 2009.
  40. ^ Doyle, Jim. Boot camp inmates' final salute. Alternative prison program to end as its effectiveness is debated. San Francisco Chronicle, July 29, 1997, Accessed January 13, 2009.
  41. ^ Gladstone, Mark. San Quentin 'decrepit' - medical experts decry state of facility inspectors find 'cruelty and neglect,' say health care mandate is ignored investigating state prisons. San Jose Mercury News, April 14, 2005.
  42. ^ Martin, Mark. San Quentin warden fired over health care. State's investigation led to dismissal, says corrections official. San Francisco Chronicle, July 8, 2005. Accessed January 9, 2009.
  43. ^ Whitaker, Tad. Trauma center unveiled at San Quentin. Marin Independent Journal, June 15, 2007.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Division of Adult Operations (31 December 2008) (.PDF). Death Row Tracking System Condemned Inmate List (Secure). 13 August 2009. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  45. ^ Deadman Talkin'
  46. ^ United Press International. Killer of four sentenced to die. Daily News of Los Angeles, May 1, 1986.
  47. ^ Pence, Angelica. Death row inmates' breakout thwarted. San Quentin guards see big safety problems. San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 2000. Accessed January 8, 2009.
  48. ^ Kelly, David. "Oyler sentenced to death for starting Esperanza fire". Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2009.
  49. ^ Webber, Dawn. Ramirez gets death sentence for 13 murders. Daily News of Los Angeles, November 8, 1989.
  50. ^ Herendeen, Susan. 480 years, 30 life terms for invasion trio - homeowners' statements at hearing recall life-changing nights of terror. Modesto Bee, February 1, 2007.
  51. ^ Sutcliffe, Thomas. The weekend's TV: What a load of jailhouse schlock. The Independent (London), January 14, 2008. Accessed January 8, 2009.
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  54. ^ Notorious galleries. Richard Chase. The "Vampire Killer." Sacramento Bee. Accessed January 10, 2009.
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Further reading

  • Duffy, Clinton T., and Dean Southern Jennings. The San Quentin story. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950.
  • Lamott, Kenneth Church. Chronicles of San Quentin; the biography of a prison. New York: D. McKay Co., 1961.
  • Leibert, Julius A., and Emily Kingsbery. Behind bars; what a chaplain saw in Alcatraz, Folsom, and San Quentin. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.
  • Bonner, John C. Hang tough: San Quentin. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1968.
  • Davidson, R. Theodore. Chicano prisoners; the key to San Quentin. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974. ISBN 003091616X.
  • Braly, Malcolm. False starts: a memoir of San Quentin and other prisons. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976. ISBN 0316106143.
  • Owen, Barbara A. The reproduction of social control: a study of prison workers at San Quentin. New York: Praeger, 1988. ISBN 0275928187.
  • Nichols, Nancy Ann, James Delahunty, and Alan Hammond Nichols. San Quentin inside the walls. San Quentin, CA: San Quentin Museum Press, 1991. ISBN 0963011529.
  • Liberatore, Paul. The road to hell: the true story of George Jackson, Stephen Bingham, and the San Quentin Massacre. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996. ISBN 0871136473.
  • Tannenbaum, Judith. Disguised as a poem: my years teaching poetry at San Quentin. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000. ISBN 1555534538.
  • Burke, Dennis. Doing time: finding hope at San Quentin. New York: Paulist Press, 2008. ISBN 9780809145270.

External links

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