San Quentin death row inmates transferred to Chino prison, prompting outcry from city leaders

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Saturday, April 20, 2024
San Quentin death row inmates moved to Chino prison
Inmates sentenced to San Quentin's death row will instead live out their lives in prisons like the California Institution for Men in Chino.

CHINO, Calif. (KABC) -- Condemned inmates on San Quentin's death row will instead live out their lives in prisons like the California Institution for Men in Chino.

The aging prison in San Bernardino County is now home to 26 death row inmates who were recently transferred there.

"They are the worst of the worst, and most of those prisoners have spent their entire term in a Level 4 yard," said Chino Mayor Pro Tem Karen Comstock. "The California Institution for Men is -- at best, in its prime -- a Level 2 yard."

Comstock said she is concerned that the facility's decaying infrastructures is not up to securely holding death row inmates. She pointed to a 2008 study which called for $28 million a year to maintain the prison in its current "poor condition." The report went on to recommend the facility should be demolished by 2014 without the investment. Comstock said that while some investments have been made, it's not enough.

"During our meeting yesterday with the CDCR, they told us they intend to transfer in the immediate seven more, to which we asked them not to transfer any more prisoners," Comstock said Friday, referring to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The request was denied.

Comstock, a lifelong resident of Chino, is worried about possible escapes by inmates with nothing to lose -- recalling the 1983 escape of Kevin Cooper from the prison, which resulted in the murders of four people. The most recent escape happened in 2018.

Top Shelf barber Matthew Martinez was in high school back then and remembers his school going into lockdown.

"I don't think that is right, because they're on death row, and then they are going to come over here like previous escapes. It could be easy for them to escape," said Martinez.

While the prison was once isolated, it no longer is. Residential neighborhoods, parks and a school are located just a few hundred yards of the prison's watch tower.

"The city is pretty calm," said resident Ryan Rizzo. "Chino PD does a pretty good job at doing what they do. So, honestly, I am not really concerned. There will be people concerned about people escaping."

In response to Eyewitness News, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a statement which read in part:

"Proposition 66 requires death-sentenced individuals to work to pay court-ordered restitution to their victims. These transfers importantly enable death-sentenced people to be at facilities that support these work programs."

The CDCR went on to note that Proposition 66 was a voter-approved measure, adding that condemned inmates are being moved to the highest-security-level facilities including those with electrified fencing.

But the Chino Men's Institute is the third oldest prison in the state, built in 1941.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated the California Institution for Men in Chino was in Riverside County. It is located in San Bernardino County.