Death row inmates are being transferred out of San Quentin. Chino city officials are sounding the alarm

A view of the East Block of San Quentin's Death Row.
A condemned inmate is led to his cell in San Quentin’s Death Row. California is shutting down death row and transferring 471 condemned people out of the prison and into the general population at other prisons throughout the state.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

City and law enforcement officials in San Bernardino County say they are outraged after dozens of death row inmates were transferred from San Quentin State Prison to Chino.

In a series of press conferences and public statements over the last two weeks, San Bernardino County and Chino officials have called for Gov. Newsom’s office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to remove the condemned prisoners, arguing that Chino’s 83-year-old prison cannot securely house the inmates and keep the neighboring community safe.

“To think this prison can successfully house the worst of the worst criminals in our state is wrong,” said Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa during a press conference Wednesday. “This is a prison that is in dire need of repair.”


Since Feb. 26, the state has transferred 324 inmates with death sentences from San Quentin Rehabilitation Center to other state prisons, which accounts for more than half of the 639 inmates with death sentences in state custody, according to the CDCR.

Of those transfers, the California Institution for Men in Chino received 39, the third highest number of condemned inmate transfers after the California Health Care Facility in Stockton and the California State Prison in Sacramento.

The moves are part of the state’s attempts to comply with Proposition 66, which was approved by voters in 2016 to speed up the execution process but also called for death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims.

In 2020, a year after Gov. Newsom placed a moratorium on the death penalty, the state began to transfer condemned inmates out of San Quentin. Over the next two years, California moved 104 people from San Quentin and the Central California Women’s Facility to other state prisons as part of a pilot program. The state announced in March it’s planning to build on that program and turn the infamous San Quentin prison into a Scandinavian-style prison focused on rehabilitation.

But critics argue Prop 66 also required California to follow through on death sentences and Newsom is ignoring that part of the law.

“Prop. 66 is the law, but Prop. 66 also calls for CDCR to maintain the death penalty chambers for these condemned inmates that were given the death penalty,” said San Bernardino Dist. Atty. Jason Anderson at a press conference Tuesday. “We should never be in a state where portions of the law are chosen and other portions of the law are discarded depending on your rhetoric and your politics.”


Chino city officials said they were caught off-guard when the CDCR began transferring inmates in February.

“These transfers occurred without any proper notice from the state,” the mayor said.

“It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Chino Police Chief Kevin Mensen. “These are criminals that should have never been transferred to CIM. They should have remained in San Quentin.”

Mensen and other local leaders pointed to a 2008 report from the California Office of the Inspector General that called for $28 million in needed repairs to the facility and two escapes in the past 40 years as part of their safety concerns for the neighboring community.

“The transfer of death row inmates to CIM creates tangible public safety concerns for local residents,” said San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman in the statement. “CIM has a history of infrastructure deficiencies that have resulted in several well-documented recent escapes. Relocating this category of inmate to CIM is irresponsible and ignores the realities of what the facility is capable of handling.”


Originally known as the “prison without walls,” CIM had originally been secured with only one security fence with barbed wire intended mostly to keep cows out of the facility than keeping inmates inside, according to the CDCR.

Now, all of the facilities where death row inmates are being transferred to include a “secure and fortified perimeter” that includes a lethal electrified fence, said Albert Lundeen, spokesperson for the CDCR.

Chino, specifically, has undergone a series of repairs and upgrades, including improvements to its electrical systems and security lighting, according to the CDCR.

All of the death row inmates are also identified as “close custody” wherever they’re transferred to, meaning they are under direct supervision when they are involved in work and programming, Lundeen said.

“CDCR can assure the public that these individuals will never be housed in the area of the facility that previously experienced a walkway — which previously happened in a different area of the prison, in a lower security level area, WITHOUT a lethal electrified fence,” Lundeen said.

In 2018, an inmate escaped after being trapped in razor wire for 20 minutes and stealing the vehicle of a security guard. He was apprehended after leading authorities on a high-speed chase.


In 1983, an inmate named Kevin Cooper also escaped from the prison and killed four people, including 11-year-old Christopher Hughes who was spending the night at a friend’s home.

“Bad things couldn’t possibly happen where we live, except when they do,” said Christopher’s mother, Mary Ann Hughes during a press conference Tuesday. “[Cooper] literally walked out.”

The transfers have prompted city officials to reach out to the governor’s office, the CDCR and local legislators asking for the 39 inmates to be removed from Chino.

Local officials have also reached out to residents expressing outrage over the decision, launching a petition on the city website, asking the governor to move inmates to “other appropriate facilities” until more repairs and improvements are done at the Chino prison.

It has garnered 1,000 signatures so far, Ulloa said.