Opened 163 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. 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. The prison complex itself occupies 275 acres (1.11 km2), valued in a 2001 study at between $129 million and $664 million.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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"; as of 2005, it was called "the most populous execution antechamber in the United States." The states of Florida and Texas had fewer death row inmates in 2008 (397 and 373 respectively) than San Quentin.
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." 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.
As noted above, all executions for men in California must occur at San Quentin. 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. 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. Between 1996 and 2006, 11 people were executed at San Quentin by lethal injection.
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." 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. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped construction of the facility the next week. The Legislature later approved $180,000 to finish the project, and the facility was completed.
The Last Mile started in 2011 under Chris Redlitz (entrepreneur and venture capital) initiative. The program aims to give resources and mentorship to inmates to help them find their way into tech startup entrepreneurship and reduce the rate of recidivism.
The San Quentin Drama Workshop began at the prison in 1958 after a performance of Waiting for Godot the previous year.
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." 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. In 1983, a randomized controlled study was published that found that the program produced no overall reduction in delinquency. The program was still functional as of 2008.
Since the 1920s, San Quentin inmates have been allowed to play baseball. Starting in 1994 inmates have played against players from outside the prison. The games occur twice a week through the summer. 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. 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." These games were detailed in a Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel episode on June 20, 2006.
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.
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.
Centerforce (www.centerforce.org), a non-profit that for 40 years has been dedicated to educating, advocating, and supporting people who are incarcerated, their families, and communities impacted by incarceration, has a number of programs operating at the prison: the Peer Health Education Program, begun in the early 1990s, provides effective and culturally appropriate health information to men currently living behind the walls; the Back to Family Program provides education and support for men to effectively reunite with and support their families; a number of case management programs to assist men in re-entering their communities. These programs allow men the opportunity to not only change their own lives, but to become positive contributors to the lives of their families and the communities to which they return.
Hope for Lifers is an inmate-organized program supported by the Prisoner Reentry Network that provides group therapy and resources for individuals anticipating a hearing before the parole board.
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.
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. After a series of speculative land transactions and a legislative scandal, inmates who were housed on the Waban constructed San Quentin which "opened in 1852 with 68 inmates." A dungeon built at San Quentin in 1854 is thought to be California's oldest surviving public work.
The use of torture as an approved method of interrogation at San Quentin was banned in 1944.
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.
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. 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.
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." 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." By 2007, a new trauma center had opened at the prison and a new $175 million medical complex was planned.
San Quentin up close.
San Quentin prisoners on recreation
Rodney Alcala: the "Dating Game Killer". Sentenced to death in 1980, 1986, and 2010.
Alejandro Avila: rapist and murderer of five-year-old Samantha Runnion. Sentenced to death in 2005.
Lawrence Bittaker: serial killer convicted of torturing and murdering five young women. Sentenced to death in 1981.
Vincent Brothers: convicted and sentenced to death in the shooting and stabbing of five members of his family, including three children. Sentenced to death in 2007.
John Famalaro: sentenced to death on September 6, 1997 for the kidnap, rape, and murder of 23-year-old Denise Anette Huber, from Newport Beach, California, in 1991. Famalaro abducted and murdered Denise on June 3, 1991. He was caught in July 1994 when police found her body in an icebox where he had kept her for 3 years.
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.
Wayne Adam Ford: convicted of killing four women in 1997 and 1998. Sentenced to death in 2006.
Larry Hazlett: convicted of the 1978 rape and murder of 20-year-old Rosamond beauty queen Tana Woolley. Sentenced to death in 2004.
Vincent Sanchez: the "Simi Valley Rapist". Serial rapist convicted of 75 counts including a first degree murder charge, felony kidnapping, burglary, rape, and other sex offense charges against numerous victims. Sentenced to death in 2003.
Mitchell Sims: convicted May 20, 1987, of the hotel-room murder of Domino's Pizza deliveryman John Harrington in Glendale; also sentenced to death in South Carolina for the murders of two Domino's employees in that state. Sentenced to death in California on September 11, 1987.
William Richard Bradford: convicted of two murders in the 1980s, the Los Angeles Police Department revealed in July 2006 that there is cause to believe he was a serial killer responsible for several murders in the 1970s and 1980s. He died of natural causes on March 10, 2008 while awaiting execution.
Edward Bunker: FBI most wanted fugitive who reformed and became an author (he wrote a novel set in San Quentin) and actor. Was sentenced at age 17, the youngest inmate at the time.
Neal Cassady: Convicted of marijuana possession in 1958. Protagonist "Dean Moriarty" from Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road based on Cassady. A member of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters.
Richard Chase: "vampire killer," in 1979 sentenced to death in gas chamber for murdering six people, committed suicide in 1980.
Jim Mitchell, prominent in the strip club and pornography businesses in San Francisco, spent 1994–1997 in San Quentin for murdering his brother Artie.
James Mitose: Japanese American martial artist who brought the art of Kenpo to the United States starting in the late 1930s.
Ed Morrell, accomplice to the Evans-Sontag rail robbery gang; spent five years in solitary confinement; known as the Dungeon Man of San Quentin; pardoned in 1908 and became well-known advocate of prison reform.
Art Pepper: jazz alto saxophone player; served two sentences at San Quentin in the 1960s.
Richard Ramirez: serial killer known as "The Night Stalker"; convicted of killing 13 people. Sentenced to death in 1989. Died of liver failure on June 7, 2013, after being taken to Marin General Hospital.
John Pence Wagner: prison evangelist-inmate between 1966 and 1972. writer of the poem featured on the rear cover of the 1971 album "Guilty!" by Jimmy Witherspoon and Eric Burdon. Died in 1999 of cancer.
Brandon Wilson: convicted in the 1998 slashing death of nine-year-old Matthew Cecchi. Sentenced to death in 1999. Committed suicide on 11/17/2011.
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.
Burton Abbott: convicted of the rape and murder of a teenage girl; executed in the gas chamber on March 15, 1957.
Clarence Ray Allen: convicted for ordering the killing of three people. At age 76, was the oldest person ever executed in California (by lethal injection on January 17, 2006).
William Bonin: convicted of 14 murders, the "Freeway Killer" (one of three men to have the same nickname) became the first person in California history to be executed by lethal injection on February 23, 1996.
Caryl Chessman: convicted rapist, was given the death penalty in 1948 and executed on May 2, 1960. The last man executed in California for a sexual offense that did not also involve murder.
Billy Cook: murderer of Carl Mosser, his wife Thelma, their three small children and motorist Robert Dewey. He died in the gas chamber on December 12, 1952.
Theodore Durrant: convicted of murdering two women in San Francisco. Executed by hanging on January 7, 1898.
Harvey Glatman: convicted of raping and strangling two women, he died in the gas chamber on September 18, 1959.
San Quentin was featured in an episode of Beyond Scared Straight, wherein inmates in the SQUIRES program educated troubled teens about the dangers of prison.
San Quentin is on the rotation of prisons featured on MSNBC's show Lockup, a TV documentary series on life in prison.
The British documentary maker, Louis Theroux, filmed a documentary, Louis Theroux: Behind Bars, exploring the relationships between prisoners and officers.
Concerts and music videos
On February 24, 1969, country music singer Johnny Cash played a live concert for the prison inmates. The concert was released as an album At San Quentin and as a television documentary Johnny Cash in San Quentin (filmed by Granada Television). During the concert, the song "San Quentin", about an inmate's loathing for the prison, received such an enthusiastic response that Cash immediately played an encore.
In 1995, Paul Rodriguez shot a standup comedy special from the prison, with much of the act geared toward the auditorium of convicts.
Metallica filmed the St. Anger music video in front of the inmates in 2003. They used various locations of the prisons except for the death chambers, and also held a free concert on site for all prisoners.
(Alphabetical by title)
The 1999 movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, indicates that the main male protagonist, Patrick Verona, spent a year in San Quentin. This is used to sustain the idea that he is a horrible person with a dark history and criminal record.
In the 2001 film Baby Boy, the prison had a small appearance when Rodney(as Snoop Dogg) was arrested, then he was released from the prison.
A few episodes of the 1960s ABCWestern series, The Big Valley, mention San Quentin. In one notable episode, Jarrod Barkley hires an ex-prisoner to work on his family's ranch after he was wrongly convicted of murder when Jarrod prosecuted him. The ranch hands figure he is from San Quentin because of a gray jacket he is wearing, which one states is what you receive upon being released from San Quentin.
San Quentin is depicted in the 2008 exploitation filmBlack Devil Doll. The villain, black revolutionary and convicted murderer Mubia Abul-Jama, is electrocuted.
In the film Blood In Blood Out, the main character Miklo is sent to San Quentin, where much of the film's plot takes place.
The 1954 film Duffy of San Quentin tells the story of Clinton Duffy, who was warden of San Quentin between 1940 and 1952.
The 1957 film Escape From San Quentin portrays an escape from the San Quentin work farm. In the film, a few of the inmates break in to hunting lodges and steal booze and guns. They steal a prison truck, get to a local airstrip, and hot wire a small plane to make their getaway.
In the 1996 film Freeway, Vanessa Lutz insists that when she turns serial killer Bob Wolverton over to the authorities, he will be sentenced to death in the San Quentin gas chamber.
The 2013 film Fruitvale Station used the prison, in which real life character Oscar Grant did time, as a filming location for a flashback scene. Actual prisoners served as extras.
The 1989 film Heathers, after the accidental death of her best friend, the film's main character, Veronica, tells her accomplice that she will "have to send my S.A.T. scores to San Quentin instead of Stanford."
The 1957 film, House of Numbers, told the story of an older brother's efforts to help his younger brother escape from San Quentin.
The 2010 film Predators included a character called Stans from San Quentin who had been sentenced to execution for 38 murders.
The 1992 film Reservoir Dogs the character Joe Cabot tells a joke in one of the movie scenes, in which he includes the name of the prison. Edward Bunker, who portrayed Mr. Blue in the film, was also a convicted from San Quentin when he was a teenager.
Gang-pulp author Margie Harris wrote a San Quentin story for the short-lived pulp magazinePrison Stories. The story, "Big House Boomerang", appeared in the March 1931 issue. It used San Quentin's brutal jute mill as its setting. Harris' knowledge of the prison came from her days as a newspaper reporter in the Bay Area, and her acquaintance with famous San Quentin prisoner Ed Morrell.
In David Kessler's novel, Mercy, the character of Clayton Burrow is on Death Row in San Quentin after being convicted of killing his high school enemy.
In John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men George says to Lennie that their childhood friend Andy Cushman is in San Quentin "On account of a tart".
San Quentin is an often mentioned and occasionally appears in Cause of Death.
San Quentin is mentioned various times in L.A. Noire; the threat of a gas chamber is also referenced by the main characters during interrogations.
^Pishko, Jessica (29 Jan 2014). "The News from San Quentin, Part 1". Gunerica. Retrieved 30 January 2014. The San Quentin News staff produce a 20-page paper that matches any outside publication in quality and depth of reporting although, unlike most publications, the subject matter focuses on the world within the walls of San Quentin: sports rivalries, notable staff retirements, and the success of rehabilitative programs
^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.
^Chessman denies guilt as he dies. Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1960.
^Cook, slayer of six, dies in gas chamber. Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1952.
^Durrant dies. Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1898.
^Models' killer Glatman dies. Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1959.
^Babs, Santo, Perkins gassed after delays. Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1955.
^Morrison, Patt. Final legal war troubling to both sides. Reaction: Most remain firm in views on capital punishment. But many agree that chaotic court wrangling added an aura of inhumanity to the proceedings. Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1992.
^Healey, Floyd J. Fiend pays with life. Hickman faints on gallows. Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1928.
^James pays with life in wife killing. Former barber hanged at San Quentin for 'rattlesnake murder.' Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1942.