Audit: New Death Row To Cost Even More

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The state auditor is out with a report this morning sure to further complicate not only the state's financial picture, but the larger debate over expenses and needs inside California's prisons. The news: a new Death Row facility at San Quentin State Prison will end up costing more than $400 million to build and open, and tens of millions more to maintain.

State Auditor Elaine Howle's full report is here. In it, she concludes that even the upwardly revised estimates from state officials for a new condemned inmate facility were too low.

The original price tag when the Legislature gave the green light in 2003: $220 million. The revised estimate, even after the Death Row project was downsized, was $356 million. Today's audit now pegs the cost of building the facility at $395.3 million, plus another $7.3 million to actually open the facility.

If you're keeping score at home, that's $402.6 million... an increase of some 83% from the original legislative appropriation.

There's also an additional cost to actually staff the new Death Row building. The auditor projects that will cost an average of $58.8 million a year, or some $1.2 billion over the next 20 years.

And just to make matters worse... will the new cells fill to capacity too soon? Auditor Howle's report says that while the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) plans to place two condemened inmates in each cell, her analysts are raising red flags about that proposal. Not only do her experts conclude that there may be legal issues with a lack of privacy for inmates preparing their appeals cases, but doubling up "increases the risk of harm to the inmates who are housed together, particularly for long periods of time."

Howle's report says if shared cells can't work, the new Death Row could actually be full as soon as 2014. That's just three years after it's expected to open.

When asking for the audit, legislators also wanted Howle to examine sites other than San Quentin for the new Death Row; she's expected to release those findings next month.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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