San Quentin starts clearing out death row

San Quentin State Prison is in the process of clearing out death row after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered it to be shut down.

San Quentin holds about 3,000 convicted criminals behind its gates. But inside there is a prison, within the prison.

Inside the condemned death row, the incarcerated men get just a few hours a week outside of their four-foot by 10-foot cells, all under the watchful eye of armed corrections officers.

For decades, the facility housed men facing the death penalty, men like Kevin Bernoudy convicted of murder in 2011.

"So your days, you find yourself sitting down a lot, laying down a lot, and when you do that you just think, and when you think you start thinking about everything and you realize, 'I'm here to be executed, I'm here to be killed,'" said Bernoudy.

In 2016, voters approved Prop 66, allowing the state to transfer the condemned to other prisons with adequate security.


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Then, in 2019, the governor ordered a moratorium on executions and has now ordered death row to be dismantled. Then just last year, the state began transferring inmates.

"Basically, we are having the condemned population transferred out to these other facilities in order to take advantage of rehabilitative programming," said San Quentin Public Information Officer Lt. Guim'Mara Berry.

More than 200 of the state's 640 people who have been sentenced to death have already been transferred. The prison is now in the process of determining when and where the men still housed here will go.

Jay Richardson said after more than a decade inside the five-story facility, he's looking forward to moving day.

"Even people (who) have been here forever, like Mr. Carpenter right there, he's 97, nearly 100 years old," said Richardson. "Some have never been anywhere else or have been here 35-40 years, even if they don't realize it, it's the best thing that could have happened to them because they get a little bit of taste of 'let me live again.'"

Prison officials say they hope to get the 400 or so inmates who are still incarcerated on condemned row cycled out of this area and put into new facilities so that this area can be repurposed.

San Quentin is planning on converting death row into something similar to an already existing wing, Donner Earned Living Unit, where the well-behaved can earn some liberties.

"Typically they have not had any disciplinary in over a year, they are attending school working and things like that," said Berry.

As the condemned cycle out of San Quentin, they will be able to begin expanding some of their options.

Inside San Quentin, most jobs or vocational training for those on death row are out of reach, because inside the prison the condemned population must be handcuffed anytime they leave their cells.

At their new facility, many like Daniel Landry, who has been at the prison since being convicted of murder in 2001, will be able to begin learning a new trade.

"I'm hoping to get into the dog program, to help train dogs and things, since I always had dogs growing up," said Landry. "I want to go work in the hospital also. Be an ADA worker and get into hospice care and stuff like that."

With executions in California on hold indefinitely, the future of San Quentin's death row is now being rewritten.