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POST University: From Prison on a Boat to Banning the Death Penalty and Rehabilitation A History of Life in Prison at San Quentin Prison

                                                                Jackie Phillips


CRJ103 – Introduction to Corrections 

Final Term Paper 

Dr George Ackerman 

Due Date: Sunday of Unit 7 

Points: 100 

From Prison on a Boat to Banning the Death Penalty and Rehabilitation 

A History of Life in Prison at San Quentin Prison, 

San Francisco Bay Area 


Prisons can change from places of torture and death to places of rehabilitation and long-term care, and even infamous prisons like San Quentin, in the San Francisco Bay Area can change. This prison has undergone huge changes and since the Death Penalty is currently on hold here in California, San Quentin is also the place for prisoners who are serving life sentences and waiting to see if the Death Penalty is reinstated.  

The reason I picked this prison is because as a native of San Francisco and always living in the Bay Area, this prison is always in my view no matter where I am driving or listening to on the news. The location is one of the most scenic spots in California, with a direct view of the Golden Gate Bridge and almost the entire bay. Since it is the only location for the Death Penalty in California, it regularly comes up in news and Death Penalty stories.  

San Quentin State Prison, maximum-security correctional facility for men located in San Quentin, near San Francisco, California. Opened in 1854, the penitentiary is the state’s oldest prison and its only facility that conducts executions. San Quentin is also among the most well-known prisons in the United States. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) today announced the San Quentin Transformation Advisory Council (Advisory Council) submitted its independent report aimed at improving public safety in California by reshaping San Quentin into a premier rehabilitation center through a scalable model.” (No author given, 2024) 

There is a long list of famous people who have moved in and out of San Quentin over the decades for both entertainment purposes and as inmates.  

“Charles Milles Manson (November 12, 1934 – November 19, 2017) was an American criminal, cult leader and musician who led the Manson Family, a cult based in California, in the late 1960s. Some of the members committed a series of at least nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. In 1971, Manson was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people, including the film actress Sharon Tate. The prosecution contended that, while Manson never directly ordered the murders, his ideology constituted an overt act of conspiracy.” (No author given, 2024) 

Country music singer Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin at least twice in his career. The first was in 1958, which included among its audience members a young and incarcerated Merle Haggard; Haggard was inspired to pursue music after being released in part because of that concert. Eleven years later, on February 24, 1969, Cash played another live concert for the prison inmates. The 1969 concert was released as an album At San Quentin and as a television documentary Johnny Cash in San Quentin. “A Boy Named Sue,” taken from the concert, was Cash's only Billboard Hot 100 top ten hit, peaking at number two, and winning the 1970 Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. During the concert, the song "San Quentin," about an inmate's loathing for the prison, received such an enthusiastic response that Cash immediately played an encore. (No author given, 2024) 

What is the history and evolution of prison ships to Alcatraz Island and then to San Quentin prison?  

The evolution of San Quentin Rehabilitation Center began with the first prison ship in 1851 and the spirit of change continues to this day. San Quentin was California’s first institution to incarcerate those who’ve been convicted of breaking laws. After briefly relying on two county jail ships, one in Sacramento and the other in San Francisco, John Coffee “Jack” Hays acquired the Waban. Hays, the sheriff of San Francisco, outfitted the Waban to operate as the first state prison. In December 1851, he sailed to Angel Island with roughly 40 incarcerated people. 

The first incarcerated person on the ship was Charles Currier, a 22-year-old cabinet maker, received Jan. 25, 1851. He served aboard the Sacramento jail ship, the La Grange, was transferred to the Waban, and helped build what would become San Quentin. Since Angel Island already had a quarry, the location was considered ideal. The federal government denied California’s claim on the land, forcing the state prison contractor to move. In 1852, they moved the Waban to Point San Quentin. While anchored offshore, incarcerated workers were transported to land during the day, quarrying stone and making bricks to construct the first prison cells.” (Chaddock, D., 2024) 

San Quentin is located in one of the most picturesque locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. How did a massive state prison get built there so long ago and remain there? Why is San Quentin still located in Marin? 

It’s pretty easy to understand how San Quentin came to be in Marin: The land was cheap, there was a deep-water port for the prison ship to dock while they built the main building, there was a quarry up the road and there was bedrock for the foundation. What’s less clear is why the state never moved the prison. It sits on valuable land and operates in an expensive region. Couldn’t the state save money by moving it somewhere cheaper and selling the land? It’s not so simple. The state considered a prison expansion back in 2002. Joe Nation, Marin’s state Assemblymember at the time, had some ideas for how San Quentin could be used differently. 

“I just thought there were other opportunities for it. Part of it was the deep-water ferry port that I thought would make a lot of sense. I thought if you made it a transit hub, if you made it so that people could actually live there, work there, or commute on the ferry to the East Bay or to San Francisco, that made a lot of sense,” Nation said. 

The history of Aryan Brotherhood gangs started at San Quentin as desegregation began 

Most prisons in the United States were racially segregated until the 1960s. As prisons began to desegregate, many inmates organized themselves into gangs along racial lines. The Aryan Brotherhood is believed to have been formed at San Quentin State Prison, but it may have been inspired by the Bluebird Gang. They decided to strike against the African-Americans who were forming their own militant group called the Black Guerilla Family. In the early 1970s, the Aryan Brotherhood had a connection with Charles Manson and the Manson Family. Several members of the Manson Family were in prison at the time, and they attempted to join forces. However, the relationship did not last long as the Aryan Brotherhood took offense at the murder of pregnant actress Sharon Tate. (No author given, 2024) 

San Quentin has had its share of Contraband problems. 

Disturbed by discoveries this year of dozens of bullets and 5 1/2 ounces of gunpowder in the hands of San Quentin Prison convicts, state corrections officials are moving to tighten contraband-screening methods at the maximum-security penitentiary, The Times has learned. The smuggling incidents not only have caused concern among state corrections officials, but have increased fears among guards at the prison, where an officer was stabbed to death earlier this year. Since Jan. 1, there have been at least three episodes of deadly contraband smuggled inside the walls of the 130-year-old prison on San Francisco Bay, which holds 2,500 inmates considered to be among the most violent in the state. The most notorious case occured in 1971 and involved a gun allegedly smuggled to San Quentin convict George Jackson just before a bloody skirmish that resulted in the death of three guards and three inmates, including Jackson.” (Hurst, J., 1985) 

I think that all possible means should be used to keep non-violent offenders out of prisons & custody. Put them in programs like halfway houses, ankle monitoring, work release and treatment programs. It is important to keep families together & keep people employed.  

We define alternatives to incarceration as punishment or treatment responses to offenders that involve something other than confinement in a secure facility (i.e., prison or jail), either at the point of sentencing or in response to noncompliant behavior of an offender already under community supervision. These include placement in a non-custodial setting during a term of punishment like split sentence, work release, home detention, electronic monitoring, earned discharge, medical release, probation, supervision by a specialty court in lieu of custody, community service, placement in a half-way or sober-living house, fines, and mandatory treatment or training.” (Gratten, R., Martin, B., 2015) 

The Three Stikes Law is one of the alternatives to the death penalty, and I am a huge supporter of the Three Stikes Law here in California. I remember the case in Sonoma County that triggered the passage of the current Three Strikes Law. I was living in that county in when poor Polly Klass was kidnapped by Richard Allen Davis from her living room during a slumber party with her friends, with her mother sleeping in the next room. 

Richard Allen Davis (born June 2, 1954) is an American convicted murderer whose criminal record fueled support for the passage of California’s three strikes law for repeat offenders and the involuntary civil commitment act for sex offenders and predators. He was convicted in 1996 of first-degree murder with special circumstances (burglary, robbery, kidnapping, and an attempted lewd act upon a child under the age of 14) of 12-year-old Polly Klass. As of January 2024, he remains on California's death row in the Adjustment Center at San Quentin State Prison.” (No author given, 2024) 

An option to helping parolees after leaving prison is what the State of California offers, which is called a Certificate of Rehabilition.  

“A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a court order that says someone who was (1) convicted of a felony and (2) served time in state or local prison, has been rehabilitated. It does not erase your criminal record, but it can have some benefits. For example, it may help when you're applying for a job or professional license from the state. In general, rehabilitation means that for many years after your conviction, you lived an "honest and upright life", followed the law, and showed good moral character. It's also a first step to applying to the Governor for a pardon. If you get a Certificate of Rehabilitation, it gets sent to the Governor's Office. It is considered an official application for a pardon from the governor,” (No author given, 2024) 


I think that assimilation into any new society or group is normal, and of course, assimilation into a prison population would be different because the inmates have no way to remove themselves. They are there 24 hours a day, and don’t have the option to go home at the end of the day, I think the first step is accepting that this is normal behavior and that a culture of “them vs. Us" will happen for inmates to protect themselves. The second step is to make sure that both staff and inmates remain safe and protected. The third step is to make sure that all rules and regulations are clear to all, and that it is also clear to make sure everyone knows what will happen if those rules and regulations are not followed.  

Unlike that of the free community, the social system of the prison community is mainly concentrated in organizing a barrier against official authority, while maintaining inmate unity. In an inmate society, solidarity is often found to be highly significant. When inmates first enter the prison they are considered to be outsiders by other inmates. Gradually, segregation from free society and deprivation of essential rights leads to a sense of change in the new inmates, as they are assimilated into the inmate culture. This process is termed prisonization. The effect of prisonization is dependent upon inmates' personalities and the extent and kind of relationships maintained with persons outside the prison.” (Sanyal, S., 1981) 

This prison has a very long history in California’s history and has gone through a long list of changes from public executions to having a name change to a Rehabilitation Center by the current governor who halted all executions in the state over 20 years ago. 



Chaddock, D., 2024, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, San Quentin evolution through the years, https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/insidecdcr/2024/02/27/san-quentin-evolution-through-the-years/ 

Gratten, R., Martin, B., 2015, Public Policy Institute of California, Alternatives to Incarceration in California, https://www.ppic.org/publication/alternatives-to-incarceration-in-california/ 

Hurst, J., 1985, Los Angeles Times, Smuggled Arms Hike Tensions at San Quentin, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-11-24-mn-1634-story.html 

No author given, 2024, Wikipedia, Charles Manson, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Manson 

No author given, 2024, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Report to Transform San Quentin Submitted to CDCR, https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/news/2024/01/05/report-to-transform-san-quentin-submitted-to-cdcr 

No author given, 2024, Wikipedia, San Quentin Rehabilitation Center, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Quentin_Rehabilitation_Center#Performances_and_music_videos 

No author given, 2024, Judicial Branch of California, Certificate of Rehabilitation, https://selfhelp.courts.ca.gov/clean-your-record/certificate-rehabilitation 

No author given, 2024, Wikipedia, Aryan Brotherhood, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan_Brotherhood 

No author given, 2024, Wikipedia, Richard Allen Davis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Allen_Davis 

Sanyal, S., 1981, US Department of Justice, Prison and Prisonization of Inmates, https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/prison-and-prisonization-inmates#:~:text=When%20inmates%20first%20enter%20the,This%20process%20is%20termed%20prisonization.Schwartz, K., O’Mara, K., 2021, KQED Radio, From Floating Prison to Million-Dollar Views: How San Quentin Ended Up in Marin County, https://www.kqed.org/news/11888753/how-san quentin-prison-got-its-primo-real-estate