Chino Protesting Transfer Of Death Row Inmates From San Quentin To CIM

Governor Gavin Newsom and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials are purposefully and wrongheadedly misapplying the intent of 2016’s Proposition 66 by transferring Death Row inmates to prisons ill-equipped to house them, the California Institute for Men in particular, Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa and Chino Police say.
Proposition 66 was an alternative measure to Proposition 62. While Proposition 62 would have outright abolished the death penalty in California, Proposition 66 was what its sponsors touted as a more hardnosed yet moderate reform of the penal system as applied to capital punishment in the Golden State. Proposition 66 called for speeding the process of capital trials and executions and limiting the challenges to death sentences. It aimed at doing this by designating the state’s superior courts in each county for initial petitions challenging the application of the death penalty in a given case, limiting successive such petitions, require appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals to accept death penalty appeals, and exempting prison officials from existing regulation processes for developing execution methods.
The last execution in California took place in 2006 under then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Difficulties with the administration of the lethal injection in which physicians opined that instead of being rendered unconscious by the sedatives administered prior to the introduction of the final lethal toxin, individuals executed were made to suffer in the several minutes before they succumbed, which was deemed a violation of the constitutional prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment. The Schwarzenegger administration, while seeking to resolve this issue to allow further executions to take place, did not succeed. The subsequent Jerry Brown Administration did not actively pursue executions.
Proposition 66 sought to eliminate the obstruction to the death penalty by prescribing a choice of four barbiturates for lethal injection: amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital and thiopental. Proposition also allowed those sentenced to death to work, with 70 percent of their pay to go toward restitution to their victims, insofar as they were housed in an institution providing a level of security to prevent them from harming other inmates or escaping. The proposition authorized the state to house death row inmates in any prison, rather than the one death row prison for men and one death row prison for women.
Shortly after taking office, Governor Gavin Newsom enunciated his stand on the death penalty.
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as Governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” said Newsom. “Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It’s irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.”
In January 2020, as Newsom was approaching his one-year anniversary as governor, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation initiated a pilot plan which involved transferring 104 inmates off of Death Row to other high-security prisons over a two-year period. Officials say there were no untoward incidents involving those prisoners being placed into the general population.
In addition to imposing a moratorium on executions, Newsom by executive order closed and dismantled the only place where executions in California had taken place for decades, the death chamber at San Quentin, which had only recently been redesigned and restructured at a cost of $853,000.
As a matter of course, the Newsom Administration has pursued the elimination of the state’s two Death Rows – the inner high-security portion of San Quentin where 650 condemned men were housed and the housing unit within the Chowchilla Prison where the 21 women consigned to death are kept.
In doing so, Newsom’s critics point out, he has seized on Proposition 66 to selectively apply aspects of what is contained in Proposition 66 where it lines up with his personal philosophy and is ignoring the other elements of the proposition.
On February 26, the first transfers began. Since that time 189 inmates at San Quentin who were sentenced to death and 20 from the women’s facility in Chowchilla have been sent to other prisons under the transfer program.
According to the state, condemned inmates are being transferred only to prisons with electrified fences, and their death sentences remain in force, such that a future governor could consent to their execution. In the meantime, however, they remain subject to the current governor’s moratorium against state-sponsored capital punishment. Though Newsom’s final term in office as governor is to come to a close in 2027, the former Death Row inmates are to remain in “closed custody” within the institutions they are being sent to for at least five years, with their activities and behavior being monitored and the effectiveness of the programs they are participating in being measured. Any work assignments they take on will last from two hours prior to sunrise until sundown. The transfers of the remaining 461 prisoners on Death Row at San Quentin will take place in gradual increments and will be concluded no later than September 1. As of yesterday, Wednesday, April 17, 26 condemned inmates were housed at the California Institution of Men in Chino. It is unclear whether there will be more Death Row inmates sent to Chino.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Condemned Inmate Transfer Program “will be carried out in accordance with Proposition 66 and with transparency.”
That is not the case, said Chino municipal officials, who said they were blindsided by the state’s action. They say they were not given any warning about the Death Row inmates being transferred to Chino until it was about to occur.
“I am alarmed that the Department of Corrections is transferring these dangerous inmates to one of the oldest prisons in the state,” Mayor Eunice Ulloa said in a news release. “The Department of Corrections needs to immediately remove these horrifically violent offenders from CIM and house them in a prison that is capable of confining people who are sentenced to death.”
Chino officials referenced multiple previous registrations of local governments’ concerns over conditions, security and safety issues at the California Institution for Men, well before the transfer of 26 convicted murderers to the prison.
One of those was a lawsuit filed in June 2019 by San Bernardino County, the City of Chino, the City of Chino Hills and the Chino Valley Independent Fire District jointly against the California Department of Corrections over the state’s failure to properly take into consideration potential security and public safety factors when concerns when it approved plans to construct a 50-bed, 48,000-square-foot mental health care facility within the California Institution for Men. While a judged ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding merit to the assertion that the project’s environmental impact report inadequately delineated existing and future conditions within the prison as well as the intended improvements and made less than acceptable description of the project’s impacts and steps to offset them, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation deftly sidestepped the legal challenge by a simple revision of the environmental impact report.
A second protestation was a demand issued to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation by Chino officials in response to shortcomings with regard to the prison’s physical plant highlighted in a 2008 report of the State Office of the Inspector General and a companion audit. According to the report, there were security issues at the facility’s periphery, dilapidating housing units, leaking roofs, dysfunctional utilities extending to electricity and plumbing, and hazardous materials and unsafe conditions endangering inmates and staff that needed to be addressed. According to the Office of the Inspector General’s audit, the prison, which was built in 1941, had fallen reached a level of intolerable dishabille through a lack of maintenance and neglect, such that annual outlays of $28 million were required to maintain the facility at a minimal state of “poor” condition to allow it to remain open.
If those repairs were not undertaken, according to the Office of the Inspector General, conditions would reach an unacceptable state that would create the need for the prison to be emptied and razed by 2014.
Many, indeed most, of the conditions delineated 16 years ago have gone unredressed city officials say, with the state having not come up with the funding required to make even minimal improvements.
“Here we are, ten years after 2014, and the problems are worse than ever,” Ulloa said.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says it has made an effort, year by year, to redress maintenance issues at the Chino Institution for Men since the 2008 audit and the state has currently committed $330 million toward carrying out facility improvements, including reroofing where necessary and roof repairs elsewhere, upgrading water and wastewater systems; revamping the prison’s electrical system and its security lighting, as well as making required compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, extending to handicapped accessibility.
None of that redresses the prospect that very dangerous inmates might escape from the institution, Chino officials say.
“Considering the Department of Corrections’ lack of investment in the upkeep and maintenance of CIM, I am appalled that they would choose to house the worst of the worst prisoners in our state in such close proximity to residences, schools, and businesses,” Mayor Ulloa said. “They have committed murder. They have committed rape. They have committed atrocities that you wouldn’t even want to know about.”
Chino Police Lieutenant Allen Kelleher emphasized that there is no buffer between the prison and the city.
“This prison is not isolated,” Kelleher said. “It is right in the middle of the community. There’s housing. There’s schools. There’s businesses that are right next to it. There’s a giant community park that’s next to this prison.”
Beyond the issue of the buildings themselves is the overall security of the aging facility. In prisons, that means not the ability of those on the outside to find their way in but rather the possibility that those inside can make their way out. Of California’s 34 prisons, the California Institution for Men is ranked at somewhere between the state’s 13th and 17th most secure institution.
In California, prisons are categorized in a five-tier level of security, from minimum to maximum.
Level 1 prisons house inmates who have short sentences and are convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenses. Those prisoners have minimal or no prior criminal history, no gang affiliation, have demonstrated compliant behavior with no discipline issues and represent a low recidivism risk. Almost universally, inmates in these facilities are nearing parole.
Level 2 prison inmates generally have short to medium sentence lengths of one to seven years, have committed non-violent property or drug offenses and sport minor criminal histories with little or no gang involvement, while displaying generally cooperative behaviors. They have a moderate recidivism risk.
Level 3 prison inmates have medium to long sentences of from 5 to 15 years, have committed violent offenses like robbery, assault and rape and have extensive criminal histories. Many inmates are gang affiliated with moderate discipline issues. Inmates in a Level 3 prison have a higher recidivism risk and tendencies for violence.
Level 4 prison inmates have very long sentences or life sentences, have committed serious violent offenses such as murder, kidnapping and sex crimes, and sport long criminal histories with violence. A majority are gang members, and a fair number are gang leaders. Virtually all have displayed discipline problems, and they embody a high recidivism risk and display proven violent behaviors.
Level 5 prison inmates have indeterminate sentences that range from life to execution. They in virtually all cases have been remanded into security housing units that make escape so unlikely as to be impossible. Many are previous Level 4 inmates who committed violent acts in prison. Typically, with some exceptions, they are confirmed prison gang members and leaders who have evinced severe discipline and behavioral issues. To ensure the safety of other prisoners with whom they come into contact and guards, they require intense control and isolation.
The state’s maximum-security prisons are Kern Valley State Prison in Delano; San Quentin, which has a minimum-security section as well; Salinas Valley State Prison; Pelican Bay; Folsom State Prison; Corcoran State Prison, referred to as Corcoran I; and California Correctional Institution referred to as Tehachapi or Tehachapi Prison, which also houses prisoners of less severity.
In addition, the California City Correctional Facility; California State Prison, Los Angeles County; California State Prison, Sacramento; High Desert State Prison; and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison at Corcoran, referred to as Corcoran II are high security institutions intended to provide safe and secure housing for the most violent and dangerous male offenders while providing opportunities for those inmates to successfully transition to lower levels of custody by accepting personal responsibility for their actions through behavior-based multi-level programming and/or rehabilitation through participation in work, vocational and academic programs, substance abuse treatment and self-help programs.
Chino is considered to be a moderate to high-security facility. Because officials are, for security reasons, unwilling to give exact descriptions of the way in which the prison is run, they have not said how the more dangerous prisoners at the facility are segregated from the remainder of the population in a way to prevent them from having an opportunity to escape.
It is far more difficult to bust out of Delano, San Quentin, Salinas Valley, Pelican Bay; Folsom, Corcoran I or II; Tehachapi, California City, Los Angeles County State Prison, Sacramento State Prison or High Desert State Prison than Chino.
Chino has been plagued by infamous escapes, such as those by Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of killing four people a-day-and-a-half after his escape in June 1983 and the January 2018 escape of Michael Garrett. While Chino Prison has electrified and razor-wire topped fences, the former can be relatively easily defeated and surmounted by means of covering it with a rubber mat available in abundance within the prison and the latter by a blanket. There have been reliable reports over the years of Chino inmates exiting the institution’s housing after lights out, escaping into nearby Chino for a night of drinking and other revelry and then returning to the prison and their sleeping quarters before dawn.
The Sentinel is informed that prison officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that security improvements at the facility made over the years particularly in response to the Cooper escape make repeats of that horrific event unlikely. Specifically, the addition of electrification to one of the perimeter fences, razor wire atop the other fence, multiple but relatively primitive guard towers, motion detectors, intensive nighttime illumination that creates a 175-yard gauntlet through which a would-be escapee must pass underneath the eyes of constantly vigilant nocturnal personnel before reaching the electrified perimeter, constant motorized patrols near the perimeter and siren signals effectively deter breakout attempts, the prison’s operators insist.
Nevertheless, there have been constant and recurring breakdowns in the electrical circuitry for the sirens, motion detectors and fence which officials have been loath to admit. Over the years, holes in the perimeter fence which have not been addressed in a timely manner have been observed.
While not, exactly, busting at the seems, the California Institution for Men, a 2,500-acre complex consisting of four facilities under a single warden addressed at 14901 Central Avenue and existing on a campus that extends from Central Avenue on the west, El Prado Road on the southwest, generally south of Eucalyptus Avenue, to the west border of the now shuttered Heman J. Stark Youth Correctional Facility which fronts to the east on Euclid Avenue and generally north of Kimball Avenue, is overcrowded. Designed to have a capacity of 2,763 and expanded to accommodate according to U.S. prison standards 2,976 inmates, it stands at 112.8 percent of that capacity, with 3,357 incarcerated there.
Many residents in Chino and the nearby area have been abuzz over the last several days over the serious offenders in their midst. Among many, there was something akin to disbelief.
“Death Row inmates are very dangerous people,” said one. “I don’t know why the state corrections system would put them in a place where they can get out. They should be in solitary confinement and not in with the general population, on which they get to watch UFC fights and YouTube and whatever they do at Camp Snoopy over there.”
Some who lived in the area expressed confidence in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the security members in place. One resident of the nearby unincorporated county area north of the Chino City Limits near Central Avenue called for the application of security measures to include outfitting condemned prisoners at the California Institute for Men with wrist or ankle monitors that would utilize satellite hookups and global positioning data to track the location of condemned inmates with a probable error of no more than 18 feet. Such tamperproof devices could be designed to removed only through the simultaneous use of three separate keys, including one with an electronic component, which would be independently maintained by the prison warden, the California Department of Corrections and the Chino Police Department. The devices could be designed so that their unauthorized removal without the use of the keys would incapacitate the prisoner wearing them, up to including the severing of the limb to which it is attached.
Prison officials were tightlipped with regard to how many more former Death Row inmates will be transferred to Chino in the weeks and months ahead, as security regulations prohibit any announcement ahead of time with regard to the movement of prisoners, their destinations or the timing for those rehousings.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did state that Chino is not now the institution within the California Penal System hosting the largest number of condemned.
There are 641 condemned inmates in California’s prison system. Since Feb. 26, 189 condemned inmates at San Quentin and 20 from the women’s facility in Chowchilla have been transferred to other prisons under the transfer program, according to the CDCR. At San Quentin 461 that were formerly on its Death Row remain confined at that institution. Some of those are to be reassigned elsewhere by the end of the summer. As of yesterday, Thursday April 18, there were 35 condemned me at the California Health Care Facility, Stockton and 31 housed at the California State Prison, Sacramento, making Chino Prison the state institution with the fourth highest number of prisoners sentenced to death.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there were 93,900 people incarcerated by the state as of January. Of those 89,100 were men housed in 30 men’s prisons and 4,200 were women housed in two women’s prisons. Another 600 non-binary prisoners are incarcerated, as well. Of the 93,900 in prison, less than 0.72 percent – 0.0071458998935037 – or roughly 1 out of 138 – has received the death penalty. Of some concern is the safety of those in the general prison population who might come into contact with former Death Row inmates as well as the negative influence the condemned prisoners might have on others, and the way they may interrupt the effort to rehabilitate them.
The Sentinel sought but was unable to land an interview with California Institution for Men Warden Travis Pennington.
The Sentinel has learned, however, that Pennington on Tuesday April 16 did meet with members of the Chino Police Department, personnel from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department including those working out of the Chino Hills sheriff’s station, officers with the Ontario Police Department and the higher-ups in the Chino Valley Fire District. There was no announcement as to what issues had been discussed or resolved.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply