Report 2007-120.2 Summary - July 2008

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Although Building a Condemned Inmate Complex at San Quentin May Cost More Than Expected, the Costs of Other Alternatives for Housing Condemned Inmates Are Likely to Be Even Higher


Our review of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (Corrections) current proposal for constructing a condemned inmate complex (CIC) at San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin), and our analysis of alternatives for housing condemned inmates found the following:


The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) houses inmates who have been condemned to death (condemned inmates) in three separate housing units at San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin). However, these units do not meet many of Corrections' design standards for maximum security facilities, increasing the escape risk for inmates and posing potential safety concerns for inmates, staff, and the general public. Accordingly, in 2003 the Legislature approved Corrections' request for $220 million to build a new condemned inmate complex (CIC) at San Quentin. However, according to Corrections, before construction could begin, the cost of the project increased significantly due to, among other things, increases in the cost of construction materials, design changes, and unforeseen costs, such as those to mitigate soil problems. To minimize these increases, Corrections modified its plan several times and eventually reduced the capacity of the complex from eight housing units to six and from 1,024 cells to 768 cells. Despite the 25 percent reduction in the capacity of the CIC, Corrections now estimates the cost of the project at $356 million, an increase of $136 million, or 62 percent in the five years since 2003.

However, analyses by our consultant suggest that the cost to construct the CIC will exceed Corrections' recent estimate. Specifically, our consultant estimates that the cost to construct the CIC will be more than $395.5 million and that the additional cost to activate the new CIC will reach $7.3 million. Because of the higher construction costs estimated by our consultant, as well as Corrections' proposed design modifications, the cost per cell and per bed has risen significantly from Corrections' initial fiscal year 2003-04 estimate. Specifically, the cost per cell has increased by 140 percent and the cost per bed has increased by 120 percent. Furthermore, our consultant estimates that the average net new staffing costs to operate the new CIC will be $58.8 million per year, for a total of approximately $1.2 billion over the next 20 years.

Additionally, Corrections currently plans to double cell (place two inmates in one cell) certain condemned inmates to maximize the CIC's capacity; however, our consultant and other experts we spoke with raised concerns about this approach to managing condemned inmates. Specifically, the experts stated that capital cases often involve very personal, private, and sensitive materials and that double celling raises serious concerns about maintaining confidentiality during the preparation to defend a condemned inmate during the appeal process. In addition, our consultant expressed concern that double celling increases the risk of harm to staff and to the inmates who are housed together. If double celling condemned inmates occurs as planned, we estimate that the CIC's 1,152 inmate capacity will be reached by 2035; however, if the plan to double cell inmates is not a feasible approach, the CIC will reach capacity as early as 2014, less than three years after it is expected to open. Our consultant indicated that, rather than double celling a large proportion of its condemned inmates, Corrections should build an additional housing unit. Adding an additional 256 cell housing unit would allow Corrections to single cell the condemned inmates until 2028. Our consultant estimated that constructing an additional housing unit would add $64.1 million to Corrections' currently planned CIC if it were constructed concurrently with the proposed CIC.

Rather than constructing a complete CIC at San Quentin, we considered the possibility of dispersing condemned inmates to housing units at multiple prison locations with maximum security housing units, known as level IV units. However, because all level IV housing units are currently filled to capacity, there are literally no empty level IV beds. Thus, new level IV housing units would have to be constructed to house either the condemned inmates or the level IV inmates displaced by the transfer of condemned inmates into the existing level IV units. Our consultant also estimates that it would be more expensive to house condemned inmates at multiple locations as opposed to at a single location. Further, the custody experts of the California Prison Healthcare Receivership, which manages the State's prison health care operations, stated that housing condemned inmates at multiple sites would amplify issues such as community resistance and problems with transportation, legal access and visiting, media relations, and pre execution procedures. Therefore, we concluded that the challenges presented by this option preclude it from being practical or economically viable.

We also considered whether an alternate prison site would be a feasible location for a new CIC, and we compared the cost of building and operating a CIC at the currently proposed site at San Quentin with the cost of doing so at three other locations that meet the criteria for a CIC. Because a significant amount of work has already been conducted to prepare for constructing a CIC at San Quentin, we found that Corrections' current proposal is the least expensive alternative that we considered. Building a CIC at an alternate site would involve various processes such as obtaining legislative approval, assessing the environmental impacts, and designing a new facility, resulting in a later start date for construction. Specifically, assuming the state budget is enacted by August 1, 2008, and with the expectation that it could take approximately three months to complete the necessary bidding and contracting process, our consultant believes that construction can start on November 1, 2008, at the proposed San Quentin site. However, he estimates that the start of construction would be delayed until February 2014 at the other locations. Therefore, although it would have been less expensive to construct a CIC at each of the alternative locations if construction could have begun at the same time as at San Quentin, due to the later start date, building a CIC at an alternate site would result in increased construction costs; increased costs to open the facility, referred to as transition and activation costs; and increased 20 year operating costs. For instance, our consultant estimates that it will cost approximately $1.6 billion to build and operate the four story CIC (known as a stacked design) for 20 years at the currently proposed site. However, if Corrections had completed all the preconstruction work in the same time frame as has been done at San Quentin, then the least expensive alternative would have been to build a stacked CIC at R. J. Donovan Correctional Facility (Donovan) at Rock Mountain in San Diego. Our consultant estimates that the cost of building and operating a stacked CIC at Donovan would have been approximately $1.5 billion, given a November 2008 construction start. However, because of the time required to change the law, gain funding approval, and complete an environmental impact report and design documents, our consultant estimates that construction at Donovan would not begin until February 2014. Due to this later start date, the cost of constructing a stacked CIC at Donovan is estimated to be almost $2 billion.

Although the currently proposed CIC at San Quentin is the least expensive option, potential revenues from the sale of that site could partially offset the cost of constructing the CIC on another site. Specifically, our consultant estimates that the land Corrections currently plans to use for the CIC could be sold for between $45.3 million and $117.9 million, depending on how it was developed, if the CIC was built at an alternate site.

Another option Corrections could consider is delaying construction of the new CIC. For instance, the State would save approximately $93.2 million, or an average of $18.6 million a year, if it delayed construction of a CIC at San Quentin for five years. The savings would result because the additional operating costs avoided during that time would exceed the increased cost of the delay in construction. However, there are unquantifiable costs associated with such a delay. For example, by the end of calendar year 2010, there will be 17 more condemned inmates than Corrections can house in the three cellblocks currently used for this purpose, based on our consultant's projection of the growth in the condemned inmate population. If the CIC is not built, Corrections will need to find additional space for these inmates.


This report includes Corrections' response to 2007-120.1, titled California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Building a Condemned Inmate Complex at San Quentin May Cost More Than Expected, issued on June 10, 2008, which has been included in its entirety as Chapter 1 of this report. We have also included Corrections' response that addresses the content of Chapter 2 of this report.

Corrections generally agrees with the information discussed in Chapter 1. However, they disagreed with our consultant and other experts we spoke with who believe that Corrections' plan to double-cell condemned inmates may compromise staff and inmate safety and raises concerns about maintaining the confidentiality of legal papers that may be kept in cells occupied by two inmates. Conversely, Corrections did not take exception to any of the information discussed in Chapter 2.