Today I learned… about California’s execution system.

A look inside California’s ‘Death Row’.


San Quentin State Prison is California’s oldest correctional facility and has the state’s only gas chamber and death row for male inmates. Five years ago, the facilities at San Quentin were deemed too small, cramped, and poorly lit to ensure humane executions, so San Jose federal judge Jeremy Fogel shut down executions in California. Yesterday, Fogel returned to San Quentin to review the new facilities. Given that California may start executing people in the public’s name again, it’s important for citizens to have an informed opinion about capital punishment. And to that end, we think it’s valuable for people to actually see the place where those executions would happen—grim though it is.



Built in 1852, San Quentin was “an answer to the rampant lawlessness in California at the time.” It was coed until the women’s prison at Tehachapi was built in 1933.


Male inmates at San Quentin State Prison are housed in three different facilities. As of the 2008/2009 fiscal year, there were 5,247 inmates in a space with a planned capacity of 3,302.


The “walk alone yard” at the Adjustment Center. The Adjustment Center is used to house inmates “who are placed under administrative segregation based on their custodial behavior, notoriety and/or protective needs.”


In 1937, the legislature replaced execution by hanging with execution by lethal gas. The San Quentin gas chamber was first used in December 1938.


The witness area for lethal gas executions. In January 1993, California law mandated that condemned inmates be given the choice between lethal gas and lethal injection as methods for capital punishment.


Last September, we showed you  San Quentin’s new Lethal Injection Facility. The new facility, which was completed in 2008 with the help of the Inmate Ward Labor Program, is more than four times the size of the metal gas chamber.


Condemned inmates are moved to the Lethal Injection Facility holding cell six hours prior to their scheduled execution.


A lethal injection consists of three components (sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride) administered in a specific order and amounts as detailed in the regulations on lethal injections.


According to the regulations on lethal injections, during the procedures for lethal injection, “dedicated telephone lines to the State Supreme Court, the Governor’s Office, and the State Attorney General’s Office shall be opened and staffed beginning at least fifteen minutes prior to a scheduled execution.”


The new Lethal Injection Facility includes separate witness areas for the inmate’s family (pictured here), family of the victim, and press.

photos courtesy of California Department of Corrections


I feel like I just did a walk through on how someone is executed in the California.