California is moving ahead with controversial efforts to dismantle the nation's largest death row system. Under Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state is making the transfer of condemned inmates permanent after what the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) calls a successful pilot program that voluntarily moved 101 inmates off death row into general population prisons across the state. The effort is in keeping with Newsom's belief that the death penalty is unjust, is racially and class biased and has little connection to justice, NPR reports. "That's a helluva thing: The prospect of your ending up on death row has more to do with your wealth and race than it does your guilt or innocence," the Democratic governor said last year. "Think about that. We talk about justice, we preach justice. But as a nation, we don't practice it on death row."
After a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing in March, the state hopes to start moving all 671 death row inmates – 650 men and 21 women — into several other prisons across the state with high-security units. Some prisoners will be able to get jobs or cellmates if they are mainstreamed into the general prison population. The corrections department says the move allows the state "to phase out the practice of segregating people on death row based solely on their sentence." No inmates will be re-sentenced and no death row commutations offered. Technically, the death penalty still exists in California. Prosecutors can still seek it. No one has been put to death in the state in 17 years. In 2019, Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions and he closed the death chamber at San Quentin, the decrepit and still heavily used 19th century prison overlooking San Francisco Bay. Those who get prison jobs — as clerks, laundry or kitchen helpers – will see 70 percent of their pay go to victims' families, as required under Proposition 66. That 2016 voter-passed initiative amended California's Penal Code to require death-sentenced inmates to work and pay restitution.