Governor Newsom suggested the segregation of death row inmates has been motivated by racial and class biases.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is doing away with the state’s death row. This week, the CDCR filed guidelines to make a pilot initiative of the last two years, the Condemned Prisoner Transfer Program (CPTP), permanent. The CPTP will relocate those on death row to general populations in prisons across the state.
California has long had the most populated death row in the United States, by a wide margin. Death Penalty Information Center recorded 690 condemned individuals in April 2022; more than twice as many as Florida, the nation’s second largest death row, with 323. In 2020, the state began a two-year test of the program, which was said to be successful.
According to the CDCR website, transferred inmates will not be re-sentenced, nor will their sentences be commuted. While these prisoners will still technically be awaiting execution, it should be noted that California has not carried out a death sentence in 17 years. Transferred prisoners will be permitted to keep prison jobs, but will send 70% of their earnings to the families of their victims, as stipulated by Proposition 66, passed in 2016.
NPR reports that Governor Gavin Newsom stated that he has pursued the CPTP because he believes the US death penalty is unjust. He suggested that the segregation of death row inmates in prisons is motivated by racial and class biases:
“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.”
Full implementation of the CPTP initiative will go into effect following a 45-day public comment period, as well as a planned public hearing in March. NPR places the number of death row inmates who will be subject to transfer at 671 – 650 men and 21 women — who will be placed in prisons of the appropriate security level on a case by case basis.
The move to make the CPTP permanent and mandatory comes on the heels of outgoing Oregon Governor Kate Brown dismantling her state’s execution chamber and commuting the sentences of 17 on death row. So far, there are 23 US states that have abolished the death penalty. Of the remaining states, 24 allow the death penalty and three have governors who have issued moratoriums on the death sentence.