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Newsom announces San Quentin Prison revamp to emphasize rehabilitating inmates

Tom Joyce, The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom is planning to overhaul the state's prison system.

Newsom visited San Quentin State Prison and announced his plan to make the San Francisco bay prison serve a different purpose.

He wants the prison to serve as a center for lower-risk prisoners to receive education, job training, and rehabilitation for substance abuse.

Under Newsom's plan announced Friday, the facility would receive a name change: the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center. The inmates serving prison sentences there would be moved to other prisons in the state penitentiary system.

Touting his plan, Newsom pointed to the state's high recidivism rate. He said its current criminal justice model is not working, so the state must change to ensure ex-inmates avoid recidivism.

"We are as dumb as we want to be," Newsom said at the event. "Two-thirds of folks, the senator says, coming out of the prison every single year, or at least within three years, violate probation or commit another damn crime? I mean, two-thirds? And we perpetuate that system, and we call that system somehow public safety oriented? Where's the public safety in that?"

Newsom will allocate $20 million to enact this plan.

Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, praised Newsom for what she sees as a commitment to public safety by putting a greater emphasis on rehabilitation programs.

She noted that she wants to see inmates grow stronger ties to the communities where they live in hopes that they will commit fewer crimes in the future.

"Opening prisons to more programming by CBOs (community-based organizations) not only shifts the culture in the prisons, it helps to forge a connection in the community that people will return to," Bonta said. "And let's be clear: 95% of our people who are in prison will be coming home to us and will be rejoining us as neighbors. Ask yourself: what condition do you want them in to rejoin our community?"

Assemblymember Damon Connolly, D-San Rafael, praised Newsom for what he thinks will be an effective approach to reducing crime and incarceration.

"The truth is in our system as things stand most people released from prison are likely to end up back behind bars," Connolly said. "Today, I'm proud to join our governor and my legislative colleagues to say that this will no longer be California's reality. We must do better and we will."

San Quentin State Prison is the only prison in California that can legally carry out executions. However, the state has not executed anyone since 2006