California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has announced a plan inspired by Norway’s system of prisons to transform the state’s San Quentin prison into a rehabilitation facility for prisoners.
The California governor’s office said in a tweet that the state is transforming its most notorious prison to the “most innovative rehabilitation facility” in the country. San Quentin houses the country’s highest number of people on death row, but it is being “repurposed” for rehabilitating inmates, educating them and breaking “cycles of crime.”
The office said incarcerated individuals will have access to programs that will provide them with skills and tools that they can use to be successful inside and outside of prison.
“California is advancing a more effective judicial system that builds safer communities,” a video that the office posted states.
The facility will be renamed from San Quentin State Prison to San Quentin Rehabilitation Center, and the more than 500 inmates who are currently on death row will be moved to another local in the state prison system.
Newsom said at a press conference on Friday that the change is designed to help incarcerated individuals reintegrate into society once they complete their sentences. He said 30,000 people come out of the state prison system every year.
“And how are people coming back? Are they ready to reintegrate in society? They ready to be fully participatory in the life of their city and their county, our state and our nation? Or are they bitter?” Newsom said.
“And so for us, this is about real public safety. This is about keeping communities safe. This is about getting serious about addressing the issue of crime and violence in our state,” he continued.
Newsom said about 800 people are released from San Quentin every year, and the goal for the reimagining of the facility is to prevent them from committing another crime and returning to prison, which would make communities safer.
The office said in its tweet that the plan will take the best practices from countries like Norway, which has among the lowest rates of repeat offenders in the world.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials toured Norwegian prisons in 2019 and noted that cells even in maximum security prisons have additional furniture like chairs and desks and potentially televisions. They also have access to a kitchen.
Oregon and North Dakota have also been inspired by Norway’s style of prisons in developing their own.
San Quentin is the oldest prison in California’s history, having been established in the 1850s. Some of its most notable prisoners during its history have been serial killer Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated Robert Kennedy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.