San Quentin State Prison

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San Quentin State Prison
LocationSan Quentin, California, U.S.
Coordinates37°56′20″N 122°29′20″W / 37.939°N 122.489°W / 37.939; -122.489Coordinates: 37°56′20″N 122°29′20″W / 37.939°N 122.489°W / 37.939; -122.489
Security classMinimum–maximum
Population4,223 (137%)
OpenedJuly 1852, 162 years ago
Managed byCalifornia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
WardenKevin Chappell
  (Redirected from San Quentin Prison)
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"San Quentin" redirects here. For the person, see Saint Quentin. For other uses, see San Quentin (disambiguation).
San Quentin State Prison
LocationSan Quentin, California, U.S.
Coordinates37°56′20″N 122°29′20″W / 37.939°N 122.489°W / 37.939; -122.489Coordinates: 37°56′20″N 122°29′20″W / 37.939°N 122.489°W / 37.939; -122.489
Security classMinimum–maximum
Population4,223 (137%)
OpenedJuly 1852, 162 years ago
Managed byCalifornia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
WardenKevin Chappell
San Quentin is located in United States
San Quentin
San Quentin
Location in the United States
San Quentin is located in California
San Quentin
San Quentin
Location in California

San Quentin State Prison (SQ) is a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison for men, located north of San Francisco in unincorporated San Quentin in Marin County.

Opened 162 years ago in July 1852, it is the oldest prison in California. The state's only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison.[1][2] 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 (1.75 km2) of desirable waterfront real estate overlooking the north side of San Francisco Bay.[3][4][5][6] The prison complex itself occupies 275 acres (1.11 km2), valued in a 2001 study at between $129 million and $664 million.[7]

The prison complex has its own ZIP code for mail sent to inmates, 94974;[8] the ZIP code of the adjacent community of Point San Quentin Village is 94964.[9] 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 October 30, 2013 the prison had a design capacity of 3,082 but a total institution population of 4,223, for an occupancy rate of 137 percent.[10] 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.[1][11]

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 4,223 inmates as of October 30, 2013.[1]

Death row[edit]

Men condemned to death in California (with some exceptions) must be held at San Quentin, while condemned women are held at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.[12] As of October 2012, San Quentin held 734 male inmates in its Condemned Unit, or "death row." As of 2001, San Quentin's death row was described as "the largest in the Western Hemisphere";[13] as of 2005, it was called "the most populous execution antechamber in the United States."[2] The states of Florida and Texas had fewer death row inmates in 2008 (397 and 373 respectively) than San Quentin.[14]

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."[2] 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.[15]

The state had planned to build a new death row facility, but Governor Jerry Brown canceled those plans in 2011.[16]


Lethal injection room
in San Quentin

As noted above, all executions for men in California must occur at San Quentin.[12] The methods for execution at San Quentin have changed over time. Prior to 1893, the counties executed convicts. Between 1893 and 1937, 215 people were executed at San Quentin by hanging, after which 196 prisoners died in the gas chamber.[2] 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.[2] Between 1996 and 2006, 11 people were executed at San Quentin by lethal injection.[17]

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."[18] The old lethal injection facility had included an injection room of 43 square feet (4.0 m2) and a single viewing area; the facility that was being built included an injection chamber of 230 square feet (21 m2) and three viewing areas for family, victim, and press.[19] Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped construction of the facility the next week.[20] The Legislature later approved $180,000 to finish the project, and the facility was completed.[21][22]

In addition to State executions, three Federal executions have been carried out at San Quentin.[23] Samuel Richard Shockley and Miran Edgar Thompson had been incarcerated at Alcatraz Island federal penitentiary and were executed on December 3, 1948, for the murder of two prison guards during the Battle of Alcatraz.[24] Carlos Romero Ochoa had murdered a federal immigration officer after he was caught smuggling Mexican aliens across the border near El Centro, California. He was executed at San Quentin's gas chamber on December 10, 1948.[24]



The sprawling San Quentin prison complex.

Though numerous towns and localities in the area are named after Roman Catholic saints, and "San Quintín" is Spanish for "Saint Quentin", the prison was not 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.[41][42]

In 1840, Point Quentin became part of a Mexican land grant called Rancho Punta de Quentin. The 8,877-acre (35.92 km2) grant was awarded by Governor Juan B. Alvarado to John B.R. Cooper. Cooper sold the rancho in 1850, and the state bought 20 acres for a prison in 1852.

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.[43][44] After a series of speculative land transactions and a legislative scandal,[45] inmates who were housed on the Waban constructed San Quentin which "opened in 1852 with 68 inmates."[46] A dungeon built at San Quentin in 1854 is thought to be California's oldest surviving public work.[47]

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 AA Big Book was presented to Jill Brown, of San Quentin, at the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto, Canada.[48]

The use of torture as an approved method of interrogation at San Quentin was banned in 1944.[46]

Alfredo Santos, one-time convicted heroin dealer and successful artist, painted six 20 ft (6.1 m) sepia toned murals during his 1953–1955 incarceration that have hung in the dining hall of the prison.[49][50]

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.[51] 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.[52]

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."[53] 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."[54] By 2007, a new trauma center had opened at the prison and a new $175 million medical complex was planned.[55]

Notable inmates[edit]


San Quentin up close.
San Quentin prisoners on recreation
San Quentin prisoners on recreation



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.

In media[edit]


(Alphabetical by title)

Concerts and music videos[edit]



(Alphabetical by title)

Fiction, literature and publications[edit]

(Alphabetical by author)

Video games[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c San Quentin State Prison (SQ) (2009). "Mission Statement". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2009-08-20. [dead link]
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  3. ^ Gould, Pam (November 2, 2009). "Does San Quentin need a new Death Row?". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
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  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]