Chino & Local Officials Intensifying CIM Condemned Prisoner Relocation Protest

Chino municipal officials and community members are intensifying their protests lodged with Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation over the relocation of dozens of prisoners on San Quentin’ Prisons Death Row to the California Institution for Men in Chino. Those protests include a demand from Mayor Eunice Ulloa that that the 39 inmates already transferred to Chino be removed and that any planned future importation of condemned men there be rescinded.
Governor Newsom, who was first elected governor in 2018 and reelected in 2022 after easily surviving a recall attempt in 2021, is opposed to the death penalty, having publicly opined that “The intentional killing of another person is wrong” and that “Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure,” having “discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.” Newsom, upon coming into office, at once imposed a moratorium on executions and pursued the dismantling 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 have been kept. 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.
Earlier this year, declaring the pilot program a success, Newsom and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation moved to permanentize and expand the program, moving more and more Death Row prisoners to other facilities throughout the state.
Those within the Chino community have what is perhaps grounds to be more concernedly regardful of the condemned prisoner transfer program than most others living in proximity to state prisons.
In June 1983, Kevin Cooper, who was originally from Pennsylvania and was serving a sentence on burglary convictions in Los Angeles County, was able to easily walk away from the California Institution for Men, heading roughly 4.5 miles due west, where he holed up in what he thought was an unoccupied residence immediately proximate – some 450 feet away from – the home of Doug and Peggy Ryen. On the night of June 4/early morning of June 5, 1983, he attacked the Ryens, using a hatchet and knife to kill them, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and Christopher Hughes, 11, a family friend who was spending the night. He slashed the throat of the Ryens’ son, Joshua, 8, who survived the ordeal. Cooper then drove the Ryen family’s station wagon to Long Beach, where he abandoned it after nearly running it out of gas. From Long Beach he headed south to Baja California, where he befriended an American couple on a sailboat. He accompanied them north, where at the end of July 1983, he was arrested upon attempting to flee after boarding another watercraft, a 26-foot sailboat moored off Santa Cruz Island, a few miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, and raping a woman. Ultimately, he was convicted of the murders of the three members of the Ryen Family and Hughes.
Issues with the security of the California Institution for Men have persisted ever since.
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, lying generally south of Eucalyptus Avenue, bordered on the east by the westernmost extension of the now shuttered Heman J. Stark Youth Correctional Facility which fronts to the east on Euclid Avenue and set generally north of Kimball Avenue, Chino Institution for Men was constructed in 1941 to less than exacting standards than many other California prisons because it initially was not intended to house the most violent of the state’s inmates. It was augmented with a high fence topped with razor wire, but prisoners seeking to escape in the 1960s were able to, and occasionally did, defeat that obstacle by throwing the thick woolen blankets used on the prison’s beds over the razor wire and climbing atop it to reach the outer side.
After the Cooper escape, state prison officials made what they said were multiple and redundant security improvements that they confidently maintained made escape from the facility unlikely. Specifically, the addition of electrification to one of the perimeter fences, more 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 insisted.
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. In 2018, Michael Garrett escaped from the prison, after which it was revealed that the motion detector on the fence had been inoperable for five years. There have been multiple reports over the years, some perhaps apocryphal, of Chino inmates exiting the institution’s housing after lights out, escaping into nearby Chino for a night of drinking, carousing with prostitutes and engaging in other revelry before returning to the prison and their sleeping quarters before dawn.
In announcing the transfer of Death Row prisoners to Chino, the California Department of Rehabilitation has emphasized that one of the reasons Chino Prison was chosen was because of the post-incarceration employment training programs the institution offers, which are rated above those available at most other prisons in California. In making the transfers, Governor Newsom has cited Proposition 66, approved by voters in 2016.
Proposition 66 was an alternative measure to Proposition 62 on that year’s ballot. Whereas 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, requiring appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals to accept death penalty appeals, and exempting prison officials from existing regulation processes for developing execution methods. It further allowed or required that condemned inmates be employed in rehabilitative programs and jobs to pay restitution to their victims, with 70 percent of the money earned earmarked for payment to the victims.
Governor Gavin Newsom and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials are purposefully, wrongheadedly and cynically 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, Mayor Eunice Ulloa, Chino Police and other Chino community members say.
On Tuesday, May 7, a press conference was held in Chino, at which Ulloa, Chino Police Chief Kevin Mensen, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson, Chino Hills Mayor Cynthia Moran, former Chino Police Chief/current Chino Councilwoman Karen Comstock, Chino Hills Councilman Brian Johsz and Mary Ann Hughes, the mother of Christopher Hughes, were in attendance.
“I’m outraged that these death row prisoners – 39 so far – have been transferred from San Quentin Prison to the California Institution for Men,” Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa said. “This is a prison that is in dire need of repair to keep these dangerous prisoners housed.”
Ulloa’s statement was an oblique reference to a 2008 report issued by then-California Inspector General David R. Shaw. Shaw concluded that the California Institution for Men in Chino had declined into an unsafe and unacceptable state of disrepair due to years of neglect and would require $28 million annually to maintain the facility in its then “poor” condition. The report further warned that if funding were not dramatically increased, the condition of the California Institution for Men would reach a level of deterioration by 2014 that would necessitate its demolition and replacement.
The state, while maintaining repairs have been made to the facility, has given no indication that the goals outlined by Shaw were achieved.
Chino Police Chief Mensen said that of those condemned prisoners transferred to Chino so far, “One inmate killed a victim with an axe during a home invasion robbery. Another beat and tortured a woman to death. Another inmate murdered two teenagers working at a Subway sandwich shop. Another beat his ex-girlfriend, then lit her on fire in front of her children.”
District Attorney Anderson said the transfers were creating a dangerous situation. He said of the incoming former Death Row inmates, “If they go to CIM, they’re going to be housed in general population. They’re perhaps going to be housed in different areas within the prison.”
Anderson said Governor Newsom and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation were engaging in sleight of hand by utilizing Proposition 66 as a justification for making the transfers. He said the state has a legal and moral responsibility “to maintain the death chamber for these inmates who were given the death penalty. We’re not in a situation and we should never be in a state in which portions of the law are chosen and other portions of the law are discarded regardless, depending upon your rhetoric and politics.”
Chino Hills Mayor Moran said, “In a letter to Governor Newsom, we called on him to remove the condemned inmates already housed at CIM effective immediately and to cease sending condemned inmates to CIM.”
Mary Ann Hughes said, “”The nightmare of what my child had to go through in his last moments will be with me forever.” Hughes echoed the calls of public officials that Governor Newsom and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation cease transferring condemned inmates to Chino.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation put out a statement that while the 2018 escape of Garrett was troubling, “All 19 facilities where condemned individuals are being transferred, including the California Institution for Men, have a lethal electrified fence.”
The Sentinel this week contacted the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to ascertain whether it would be willing to substantially enhance the security pertaining to the condemned prisoners being transferred to Chino in an effort to allay the concerns that locals have about the increased hazard housing such hardened criminals at the California Institution for Men represents to Chino and the nearby areas.
The Sentinel asked why it is not possible to outfit the transferred condemned prisoners with unbreakable ankle monitors by which their whereabouts, on both the campus of the Chino Institution for Men or, potentially, off of it, can be constantly monitored. The Sentinel asked if applying such a solution would be a violation of those prisoners’ rights in some fashion and if there was a practical reason why that solution could not be applied or some other reason why ankle monitors on inmates could not be utilized.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation indicated the question could be fielded next week.
Chino officials are circulating a petition calling upon the governor and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to cease the transfers of condemned prisoners to Chino, requesting that residents sign it.

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