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California’s Death Row: More Suicides Than Executions

Since California’s death penalty was reestablished in 1978, only 13 condemned prisoners have been executed. But in that same period, 38 have died of natural causes while another 14 have committed suicide.

In spite of updated suicide prevention procedures, on June 10, 2007, 25-year-old condemned prisoner Tony Reynolds hung himself with a bed sheet in his cell. He had been on the Row for only 30 days, following his conviction for the murder-rape of a pregnant woman in Riverside County. Although Reynolds’ file reportedly noted his earlier diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic, San Quentin State Prison spokesman Lt. Eric Messick stated that the prison was not so advised. “This guy didn’t give us any indication,” he said. California experienced a record 43 prisoner suicides in 2006, in spite of federal court oversight to treat the mentally ill.

Today, 666 condemned men and women sit on Death Row, pending an execution whose wait averages 17.5 years. And that wait will more than double, as the rate of accumulation of newly condemned prisoners far exceeds the dozen or so that can have their mandatory death penalty appeals heard by California’s Supreme Court each year.

Executions have been on hold in California since February 2006, when U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ordered state officials to both revise lethal injection procedures and to update the execution chamber. Chamber reconstruction was started clandestinely by San Quentin officials without approval of the State Legislature, when it was stopped after the cost grew to twice the prison’s $399,999 discretionary spending level.

Source: Sacramento Bee.

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