One of California's oldest prisons, San Quentin State Prison, will undergo a transformation in an effort to strengthen safety through criminal justice reforms.
One of California's oldest prisons, San Quentin State Prison, will undergo a transformation in an effort to strengthen safety through criminal justice reforms. Credit:

Last Updated on May 10, 2023 by BVN

Prince James Story

Built in July of 1852, San Quentin State Prison, home to the country’s largest number of death row inmates, is transitioning to a new purpose and undergoing a name change that will reflect its  new direction — San Quentin Rehabilitation Center. 

“California is transforming San Quentin – the state’s most notorious prison with a dark past, into the nation’s most innovative rehabilitation facility focused on building a brighter and safer future,” said Gov. Newsom in a recent statement. “Today, we take the next step in our pursuit of true rehabilitation, justice, and safer communities through this evidenced-backed investment, creating a new model for safety and justice — the California Model — that will lead the nation.”

Twenty million dollars of California’s 2023-2024 budget proposal will be allocated toward this transformation, with guidance from community leaders and an advisory board consisting of criminal justice, rehabilitation, and public safety experts worldwide. 

“By transforming San Quentin into a place that promotes health and positive change, California is making a historic commitment to redefining the institution’s purpose in our society,” said Advisory Group Co-Chair and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Center for Vulnerable Populations, Dr. Brie Williams. 

“I look forward to lifting the voices of people who have lived or worked in prisons to imagine a center for healing trauma, repairing harm, expanding knowledge, restoring lives and improving readiness for community return.”

The center will focus on education, rehabilitation and breaking the cycles of crime. 

Restorative Justice

“I’m interested in seeing some more restorative justice practices being brought in, to give people who are incarcerated the opportunity to repair the harm,” Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, said.

“Unpacking why they may have been involved [with the system] and the impact that’s had on the families, individuals, and community and then how to be a part of the process of repairing that.”

“I think it’s going to take more people who have been impacted by the system to step up and talk about what worked for them to change their lives. And then it’s going to take people cooperating and creating opportunities for the people who have changed their lives to actually lead full lives, get their rights back, get their stability, buy property, start businesses, and reunite with their families.”  Hollins said. (Credit:

A few restorative justice practices that have previously been exercised in the criminal justice system are victim-impact panels, circle sentencing, and mediations between victims and people who were convicted of crimes.

Victim-impact panels do not involve direct contact between the victim and the person convicted of a crime, but they provide a panel featuring surrogate victims from similar crimes to share how an attack has affected them. 

Circle sentencing is another opportunity for people who are justice-involved and victims to have an open conversation. The purpose is to address all parties’ concerns and develop an appropriate sentence plan. 

Mediations between a victim and a person who was convicted of a crime often feature both parties in a safe space with an open dialogue. The purpose of this activity is for the person who caused harm to take accountability for their actions and help develop empathy for victims. 

Examining what works

“I think that’s an important piece right now, is looking at what works. Then, scaling out on the things that work and then, also creating funds and opportunities for people who have program ideas,” Hollins expressed. 

“A lot of the greatest programs that we have are led by people who are impacted by the issue that they’re working on. So, bringing more survivors, more people who were formerly incarcerated and rehabilitated and giving them the tools and resources to fill up those spaces [is important].” 

Hollins is a crime survivor and has served as the  California State Director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ). Hollins shared that she has had incarcerated family members and has also lost family members to violence. 

“We don’t want jail or prison to be the place where people finally get the help they need. But if this is a consequence of committing a crime or being involved in the crime, I want to make sure that our people have every resource they need to come home better, to come home healthy, to come home prepared,” Hollins stated.

According to a 2021 report by the California Budget & Policy Center, which collected data from 2010-2019, Black women and men are overrepresented in California state prisons. 

Black women made up 26% of incarcerated women, and Black men made up 28% of the state’s prison population among men, while Black people only make up 6.5% of the state’s total population.

This is why Hollins would like to see more Black-led organizations involved in criminal justice reform at the state level. 

“We need to have culturally competent programs to speak to our people. We need to have Black-led organizations and programs in these places to make sure that our people get the right type of support and resources they need to come back,” Hollins said.

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Prince James Story

Report for America Corps member and Black Voice News Climate and Environmental Justice reporter, Prince James Story was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an intersectional journalist with experience covering news and sports across numerous mediums. Story aims to inform the public of social inequities and discriminatory practices while amplifying the voices of those in the communities harmed. Story earned his master’s degree in Sports Journalism from Arizona State University-Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He earned a B.A. in Mass Communication and a B.A. in African American studies from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Contact Prince James with tips, comments, or concerns at or via Twitter @PrinceJStory.