Newsom Gives Norwegian Delegation a Limited Tour of San Quentin

Newsom Gives Norwegian Delegation a Limited Tour of San Quentin

A prison guard escorts an inmate at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., on Aug. 15, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

4/17/2024

Updated: 4/18/2024

Gov. Gavin Newsom on April 16 welcomed a delegation from Norway to announce a collaborative agreement between the two governments focused on progressive climate policy. But a tour of San Quentin Rehabilitation Center came first.
After touring  the state’s oldest prison—which the governor has made a blueprint for California’s reform efforts, modeled on Norway’s corrections system—the delegations held a press conference at nearby Larkspur Ferry Terminal.
Newsom, along with Norway’s Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon and Trade Minister Jan Christian Vestre, signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining efforts in areas such as clean energy and carbon removal, as well as a joint statement which touched on criminal justice and prison reform.
Asked what he thought of San Quentin, Mr. Vestre said, “I think it’s a great example to see how we are progressing and how the reforms are actually working, and how people can get their hope back.”
Mr. Vestre noted delegations from California’s criminal justice system have visited Norway to learn best practices, in an ongoing effort to emulate the country’s successful reforms—which are focused on rehabilitation, restorative justice and reentry, rather than punishment—and which have reduced recidivism to enviable rates.
“When we are visiting our prisons and visiting San Quentin there are so many similarities,” the minister said.
“I doubt that,” Patrick “Jimmy” Kitlas, an inmate housed at San Quentin, said drily in a phone call with The Epoch Times.
Mr. Kitlas pointed out that the delegation, which he saw in passing as Mr. Newsom walked by and said hello in the cantina, only toured Donner Unit, a disciplinary-free, “Earned Living Unit” that offers improved conditions for inmates, who are put on a waiting list to transfer there.
“It’s a single-cell, very open, super honor unit. That was their full experience. They didn’t come inside our building or the other building where everyone is double-celled and it’s chaos,” Mr. Kitlas said.
Hector Bravo, a former lieutenant and public information officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was similarly skeptical.
“This dog and pony show is no different than when [Newsom] cleaned up the San Francisco Streets for the Chinese delegation,” Mr. Bravo told The Epoch Times, referring to a remarkably nimble effort late last year to clear open-air drug markets and sprawling encampments in advance of a visit from Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
“I’m sure at San Quentin they’re only taking them to a designated yard that has already been prepped in advance, and they only let out the inmates that behave and only the managers are there. So it’s a big show,” Mr. Bravo said.
A representative for the corrections department told The Epoch Times the delegation included around a dozen people who visited the prison’s chapel, recreation yard and media center, and spoke with incarcerated individuals, including participants in videography, coding, and dog training programs.
According to Mr. Kitlas, the delegation also toured the prison’s Death Row, also a single-cell facility, which authorities are currently in the process of emptying, as they transfer condemned inmates to general population yards in prisons across the state.
In every other unit besides the two they saw, he said, claustrophobic bunk beds are the norm. “You only have about two feet of movement room inside the cell. You can’t even house animals in these cells.”
If the delegation had passed through the honor unit where Mr. Kitlas is housed, he said, they’d see “old tobacco and feces stains on the wall dripping down because they just don’t clean them.”
While the governor has proposed $360 million to “transform” the 170-year old prison into a rehabilitation center, some say the institution’s crumbling infrastructure has been ignored.
In an effort to reform and depopulate its sprawling correctional system, California has over the past decade increasingly opted to downgrade security and integrate such disparate populations as rival gang members, gang dropouts, condemned inmates, and sex offenders in the same facilities.
While most critics agree the intent of Norway-style reforms is laudable, they say a politicized and haphazard approach, applying top-down directives wholesale to a very different population, has been a slow-motion disaster.
The result, according to both former and current inmates and prison employees The Epoch Times has interviewed, has been escalating chaos and violence—including at San Quentin.
Systemwide, data from the state’s corrections department appears to reflect this trend. Even as the prison population has steadily decreased, it has seen a more than 40 percent average increase in reports of violence including assaults and battery on both inmates and non-inmates, as well as use of force and sexual assaults over the past few years.
“There are serious issues plaguing the department,” Mr. Bravo said. “We are up to nine homicides in 2024, and we’re barely in month four. You can’t hide that.”
He pointed to recent staff assaults at various facilities that the corrections department has reported on its website.
“The attacks on staff are rising. The inmate homicides are rising. Deadly use of force is rising. Weekly there’s an attempted murder on a peace officer. That is not normal, that is not OK—that is extreme,” Mr. Bravo said.
“It is anything but reformative.”
Mr. Kitlas, meanwhile, said it was fortunate the dignitaries didn’t get a tour of the kitchen.
“Inside of our ovens, they’ll find rat droppings and bird droppings, and inside of our steam pots, where they cook our food and where they clean our utensils, birds and rats and cockroaches live in those machines,” he said.
“There are birds that literally live, breed and die their entire lives inside of our kitchen. They don’t fly outside.”
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Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

Author

Beige Luciano-Adams is an investigative reporter covering Los Angeles and statewide issues in California. She has covered politics, arts, culture, and social issues for a variety of outlets, including LA Weekly and MediaNews Group publications. Reach her at beige.luciano@epochtimesca.com and follow her on X: https://twitter.com/LucianoBeige

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