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Marin County - State Prison - California
San Quentin State Prison

Prison System: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Status: Active, opened in 1852                         

Offender Gender: Male

Security Level: Maximum, Death Row, Medium, Minimum, Execution Chamber

Employees: 1,718

Distinguishing Feature: San Quentin was the sight of the first prison Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, which put it at the forefront in acknowledging that substance abuse contributes to criminal behavior and that addressing substance abuse is a critical part of rehabilitation.

Number of Inmates: 3,682

Maximum Capacity: 3,082

San Quentin is the oldest prison in the state of California and its structures are dilapidated and out-of-date.  The prison complex is 275 acres and actually has its own zip code.  Housing is broken in different levels: Level I housing features open dormitories with no secure perimeter; Level II features open dormitories with secure perimeters; the Condemned Unit has higher security; and the Reception Center offers short-term housing for incoming inmates. 

The cell blocks at San Quentin are the stereotypical cell blocks one sees in media portrayals of prisons.  They feature long rows of small 5’ x 9’ cells that have bunks, a metal toilet, and a sink.  The cell is closed by a sliding door made of bars.  Inmates who are waiting for services, such as psychiatric services might be placed in smaller cages constructed of similar bars.  The recreation yard has a baseball field, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a track. 

One of the most striking things is that San Quentin is incredibly racially segregated, and members of different racial groups are also broken into gangs.  San Quentin has been the origin of many gang organizations and has a strong gang presence.  The most prevalent gangs include: the Black Guerrilla Family, the Aryan Brotherhood, La Nuestra Family, and the Mexican Mafia. Three unarmed guards handle about 500 inmates in the yard at a time, but are covered by guards armed with rifles and stationed in the watchtowers. 

The cells in death row are smaller: 4’x 9’, but they are single-occupancy.  Unlike most death row inmates, the San Quentin death row inmates can have up to 5 hours in the yard each day.  However, they do not use the same yard as the other inmates.  Instead, there are four death row yards and death row inmates who can interact with one another are placed in a yard matching their gang affiliation, or, if unaffiliated, in the unaffiliated yard.  Inmates who cannot safely interact with one another can go into much smaller 8’ x 10’ cage for recreation.

Prisoners complain that they are abused at San Quentin, and mentally ill prisoners do appear to be at-risk at the prison.  Some prisoner complaints include: differential treatment of inmates who behave the same; the use of confidential informants to establish gang affiliation; the racial segregation of the exercise yards; group punishment tactics such as the use of chemicals to respond to isolated incidents of prisoner misbehavior; stripping out inmates in view of other inmates; denied access to the law library; property restrictions that are not punishment for specific misbehavior; and a lack of exercise equipment.  The most frequent complaint appears to be that some prisoners are assigned to highly restricted cell blocks despite not having a history of misbehavior in prison, which results in them having even more restrictions than the rest of the prison population.

San Quentin has educational and work-training programs, including the only on-site college degree program in the California prison system.  It also has a number of different groups and programs aimed at either helping rehabilitate prisoners or helping prisoners contribute meaningfully to society despite being incarcerated.  The Vietnam Veterans Group San Quentin raises money for scholarships for high school children and also for toys to give away to children visiting parents in prison.  San Quentin has a drama workshop and the nation’s only prison newspaper.  Inmates can play baseball and even play games against non-inmate teams.  Prisoners can participate in San Quentin SQUIRES, a program allowing inmates to interact with at-risk youth in an attempt to prevent the youth from becoming criminals.  San Quentin also has a program called No More Tears, which was co-founded by San Quentin inmates, and is focused on reducing the rates of neighborhood violence and teaching empathy to the inmates. 

San Quentin contains a furniture factory, which produces officer furniture such as desks, tables, and chairs for state agencies. It also contains a mattress factory that makes mattresses for college dormitories. 

Prior to California building San Quentin, prisoners were held in prison ships.  In fact, San Quentin was built to replace the prison ship Waban.  In fact, prisoners from the Waban provided the labor to build San Quentin.   It was established in July of 1852 and was built to house male and female inmates. It continued as a men’s and women’s prison until 1933, when California built a separate female facility. 

San Quentin has housed a number of very well-known killers, including an extraordinarily high number of serial killers, spree killers, and mass killers.  These killers include: Richard Chase the Vampire Killer; Charles Manson; Richard Ramirez the Night Stalker; Lawrence Bittaker; David Carpenter; Dean Carter; Douglas Clark the Sunset Strip killer; Wayne Adam Ford; and Philip Carl Jablonski.  Some other famous inmates include the country music star Merle Haggard, Scott Peterson, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan, the actor Danny Trejo, and one of the founders of the Crips gang Stanley Tookie Williams.  One of the most notorious inmates of San Quentin was not there for murder; Lawrence Singleton raped a 15 year old girl young woman and cut off her arms.  When he was paroled, none of the towns in his parole area would accept him into the community, and he had to live in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin.  Their fears were well-founded, Singleton went on to rape and murder a second victim.

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Send Inmate Mail:

Inmate Name, Inmate ID #
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974 

Visitation Schedule for San Quentin:


Staff Visitation 7:00 am - 3:00 pm
Five Condended Contact 7:30am, 9:45am, and 12:00pm
Three Grade B 8:00 am - 9:00 am
Eight Reception Center 8:00 am - 9:00 am

Saturday / Sunday:

Staff Visitation 7:00 am - 3:00 pm
Three A/C non-contact 8:00 am, 9:30am, 11:00am, 12:30pm
Eleven Reception Center non-contact 8:00 am, 9:30am, 11:00am, 12:30pm
Five Ad-Seg/Grade B non-contact 8:00 am, 9:30am, 11:00am, 12:30pm
Five Condemned (east block) 7:30am, 7:45am, 8:00am, 9:45a, 10:00am, 12:00pm, 12:15pm, 12:30pm
Five Condemned (north segregation) 8:00am, 8:30pm, 10:15am, 10:45am

General Population Visituation 7:30am - 2:30pm


Year Built or Opened: 1852 Warden or Supervisor: Ronald Davis Daily Inmate Count: 3682 Total Capacity: 3082 Security Level(s): Minimum - Maximum

Inmate Name & ID #
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

Phone Number(s): 415-454-1460

San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

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