San Quentin State Prison is California's oldest penitentiary, and is the state's only death row facility for men. Opened in 1852, the prison is the largest in the United States and is located north of San Francisco, in the town of San Quentin, Marin County. Any man condemned to death in the California state must be held at San Quentin, with some exceptions, while women are held at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. Currently, San Quentin is housing over 700 condemned inmates.
Yet despite high numbers, those on death row are more likely to die from old age than be put to death. This is due to a 'backlog' of prisoners who have been given such a penalty, which occurred since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978. More than 900 people were sentenced to death in the last 38 years but only 13 executions were carried out. Los Angeles has not put any criminals to death for 10 years, and currently has more than 740 people awaiting execution on death row. During an interview with ABC News, one inmate Jamar Tucker, who is on death row for killing three men, highlighted the issues with the imprisonment system "Man, I'm wrong and this what I got coming to me. Give it to me. Don't sit me, have me sitting on the shelf 20 and 30 years. You told me you're were going to kill me. Kill me already."
San Quentin has housed many notorious inmates who were sentenced to the death penalty such as William Bonin, Edward Hickman and Caryl Chessman. Bonin was convicted of 14 murders, and the first person to be killed by lethal injection in 1996. Chessman was the last man executed in California for a sexual offence that did not also involve murder. However, on 8 November 2016 Californian's will be able to vote to repeal or alter the death penalty ruling. If voters choose to repeal the penalty, it would be replaced the maximum punishment for murder with life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole. Voting to 'alter' would change the procedures governing state court appeals and petitions that challenge death penalty convictions and sentences.
Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan has documented life inside the walls of San Quentin and the inmates who have been sentenced:
This article was first published
on August 16, 2016