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Huh? State Wants to Transform San Quentin into a Kinder Space with Friendly Prison Guards

April 13, 2024

OPINION PIECE

by S.M. Wagenaar


(Marin County, CA) - When you work in a prison, it's not just about physical safety—it's also about your psychological well-being. Everyday, California prison guards navigate interactions with inmates, some of whom pose serious risks and are down right dangerous.


This stark reality underscores the complexity of Governor Newsom's plans to transform San Quentin into a kinder space, featuring friendly prison guards who will provide warm interactions with inmates—an aspect that some view, including this writer, with grave concerns, fearing potential compromises in safety for prison guards.


Governor Newsom's $360 million proposal plan to convert San Quentin from a traditional prison into a rehabilitative center, challenging the established norms of incarceration. The plan, outlined by an advisory panel, suggests significant changes in how guards interact with inmates, promoting a culture of friendliness and positive engagement.


One notable recommendation in the whopping 156 page report from the advisory panel is the re-training of prison guards as "community" correctional officers.


This new role would require guards to have the skill-set needed to understand and address the complex needs of incarcerated individuals, including trauma, substance use issues, and mental illness. Which begs the question, are prison guards expected to be social workers, too?


The proposal also addresses structural issues within the prison, such as ending double-person cells and providing better housing for guards. These suggested improvements wish to create a more conducive environment for both inmates and staff.


While the proposal has generated discussion and debate, its implementation remains uncertain. Critics raise concerns about the practicality and effectiveness of such drastic changes, particularly in a prison environment with dangerous murderer's, rapists, drug dealers and gang members; safety remains paramount for both guards and inmates, if Newsom's vision of a KINDER San Quentin has any hope of actually working.


Ultimately, the success of Governor Newsom's proposal will depend on its ability to strike a balance between maintaining security and fostering rehabilitation within San Quentin.


Closing Thoughts:

Will guards being friendlier towards inmates make a rehabilitative difference in California's oldest prison? While, a part of me might like to think so, I'm not ready to drink the water, the state is peddling as kool-aid for the soul.


Stay frosty, California.

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