California's death row – the largest in America – has run out of room

Federal judge says the state's slow system is 'unconstitutionally cruel'

Lucy Clarke-Billings
Tuesday 31 March 2015 10:34

America’s largest death row has run out of room.

With no executions in nearly a decade and newly condemned men arriving each month, more than 750 convicts are currently in limbo.

And Governor of California Jerry Brown is asking the Legislature for $3.2 million to open nearly 100 more cells at San Quentin State Prison.

Warning that there is little time to lose, the request is included in Mr Brown’s $113 billion budget proposal.

The expansion would take advantage of cells made available as the state releases low-level drug offenders and thieves under a new law voters approved last year.

California’s death penalty has been the subject of a decade of legal upheaval with one case even leading to a halt in executions in 2006.

Another resulted in a federal judge’s ruling last July that the state’s slow death row system is ‘unconstitutionally cruel’.

As a KCRW radio blog reports, the legal fight of capital punishment has meant the state has not put an inmate to death in nearly ten years.

The blog reports: "The governor says prison officials should use cells that are opening up as lower level inmates are released under a new law passed by state voters last year.

“The majority of the money would go to increase staff, since condemned inmates require more security.

"The capital punishment system has been in limbo since a court invalidated the state's three-drug lethal injection system nearly a decade ago.

“No new protocols have been developed."

The Los Angeles Times reports that San Quentin's death row, which can accommodate 715 inmates, is currently just below capacity.

But at the moment, 23 other death row inmates are scattered across the California prison system.

The governor's budget proposal anticipates an average of 20 new arrivals on death row yearly and he proposes putting them in 97 cells on the first two tiers of the five-tier South Block.

If approved, the expansion would begin in July.

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