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Non-Partisan Analyst’s Office Recommends Legislature Reject Governor’s San Quentin Plan

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(Image courtesy of the state of California via Bay City News)

By Thomas Hughes
Bay City News

A new report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office casts doubt on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to renovate San Quentin State Prison with the goal of improving inmate rehabilitation programs and staff well-being.

The report from the non-partisan analyst’s office raises questions about the governor’s proposed timeline for the project, costs and transparency, and the rationale for focusing on the San Quentin facility rather than statewide priorities in the prison system.

In March, the governor said he wanted to transform the state prison in Marin County from a maximum-security prison to a facility focused on rehabilitation and education by building an education and vocational training center at the site of a warehouse and former housing row.

“California is transforming San Quentin — the state’s most notorious prison with a dark past — into the nation’s most innovative rehabilitation facility focused on building a brighter and safer future,” Newsom said in a statement at the time.

But the Legislative Analyst’s Office questioned the governor’s goal of completing the construction of the project by 2025, a deadline it called “unnecessary and problematic.”

Newsom has cast the effort as an attempt to build a scalable model that could transform the prison system statewide to improve rehabilitation programs and wellness for corrections workers and inmates, calling it the “California Model.”

>>>Read: Newsom Wants to Change Criminal Justice and Healthcare in California

But the LAO report said the cost of the San Quentin project would essentially make that goal unrealistic. The plan calls for issuing more than $360 million in bonds that would be paid back over 25 years for a total cost of $680 million. If every facility in the state was to be modified in a similar way, it would cost $20 billion over 25 years, which the LAO said was not in line with the Legislature’s current spending priorities.

The report also said that the plan lacks specifics that prevented both the LAO from being able to provide full analysis and the Legislature to know what amount of spending will accomplish the overall goals it has set to improve the prison system.

“We find that the overall goals of the California Model are laudable and merit consideration,” the report said. “However, the administration has not set clear and specific objectives for meeting these goals.”

The report said, as an example, the governor had not made clear that the plan for San Quentin would be more efficient in accomplishing overall goals to improve the prison system set by the state, such as reducing staff assaults and increasing capacity for mental health crisis bed admissions. Such goals might be better achieved by focusing on other facilities, the report noted.

“While the administration has articulated some broad approaches to pursuing the goals of the California Model, such as ‘becoming a trauma-informed organization,’ it has not identified any clear changes to policy, practice, or prison environments it deems necessary to achieve the goals,” the report said.

Newsom has requested $20 million in next year’s budget to get the process started. The renovation and planning process would be overseen by an advisory panel made up of representatives from the areas of criminal justice, public safety and rehabilitation.

The LAO recommended that the Legislature reject the plan as it stands and require the administration to issue a report by Jan. 10, 2024 on the California Model’s development, including more clear objectives, strategy for implementation, and plan to involve more stakeholders.

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