California plans to spend $220 million to build a bigger death row next to the current one on a spectacular bayside bluff at San Quentin Prison, the New York Times reports. The state has long had the nation’s most populous death row–641 currently–and very few residents ever leave. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, just 10 inmates have been put to death, and many spent 20 years in their cells before being executed by lethal injection. Four times as many have died from causes like suicide and AIDS.
There is a stepped-up effort by opponents to block the new death row. The debate centers on real estate prices and panoramic views, not the snail-paced approach to executions that has made a bigger prison necessary. “The site’s location on the bay and proximity to San Francisco along with access to nearby cultural and recreational opportunities provide a unique opportunity to leverage the physical characteristics and natural beauty of the property,” states a developmental plan prepared by Marin County. The proposal, called the San Quentin Vision Plan, contemplates residential communities, bike paths, parks and a transportation center in place of death row and the rest of the prison and its 5,000 inmates. Criminologist Franklin Zimring of the University of California at Berkeley says the death row proposal “looks like an inefficiency, but it may function to give us exactly what we want, which is a death penalty without executions. When people are ambivalent and not very honest about their priorities, it is very difficult to distinguish between ingenuity and inefficiency.”