Saturday, December 18, 2004


1 rm, iron bar vu

They could make it a hotel. Or a theme park! Gas Chamber Land! Disney could run it - some of their movies would make you want it to be real...
San Quentin Debate: Death Row vs. Bay Views


SAN QUENTIN, Calif., Dec. 17 - So many people in California have been sentenced to death that the state is about to spend $220 million to build a bigger death row next to the current one on a spectacular bayside bluff here.

The state has long had the most populous death row in the country - it now has 641 condemned inmates - and the problem is that very few residents ever leave. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, just 10 inmates have been put to death, and many spent 20 years or so in their cells before being executed by lethal injection. Four times as many have died from other causes like suicide and AIDS.

"The comment may sound a bit whimsical, but it's literally true that the leading cause of death on death row is old age," said Chief Justice Ronald M. George of the California Supreme Court, a former prosecutor of capital cases.

The decision to build the new prison was made by the State Legislature last year and the environmental reviews are nearing completion. With construction scheduled to begin next September, there is a stepped-up effort by opponents to block it.

But in an indication of how accustomed Californians have grown to their Potemkin-like death row, the debate over the new prison is centered on real estate prices and panoramic views, not the snail-paced approach to executions that has made a bigger prison necessary. Many elected officials here in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, do not oppose a new prison, they just insist that it be built far away on less valuable property, and for that matter would like to move the entire complex.

"The site's location on the bay and proximity to San Francisco along with access to nearby cultural and recreational opportunities provide a unique opportunity to leverage the physical characteristics and natural beauty of the property," states a developmental plan prepared by the county. The proposal, called the San Quentin Vision Plan, contemplates residential communities, bike paths, parks and a transportation center in place of death row and the rest of the prison and its 5,000 inmates.

Margot Bach, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Corrections, characterized the county's approach to San Quentin this way: "They want the real estate. That's the bottom line."
It never occurs to them - just fuckin' end capital punishment!

But of course that still wouldn't solve the problem of moving the prison. On the one hand, you can't blame Marin County for wanting the land. On the other hand, given NIMBY and BANANA and environmental racism and all that, if they did move it, it would inevitably end up in some poor, politically powerless neighborhood. On the other other hand, given that most of the inmates would probably come from poor, politically powerless neighborhoods, this would make it easier for relatives to visit. But then the guards' union would hate having to go to work in some poor, politically powerless neighborhood and would make plenty of campaign contributions to try to keep that from happening.

Ain't politics jus' wunnerful?
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