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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

DEATH ROW COST OVERRUN: $40 MILLION

Mnsanquentin30__0422432627 The cost of new housing for San Quentin State Prison's growing number of Death Row inmates will exceed estimates by nearly $40 million, and the compound could run out of space soon after it is completed, according to a state auditor's report released Tuesday.

The auditor's new $395.5 million price tag for the project, which is expected to be completed by 2011, is new bad news for a state facing billions of dollars in budget shortfalls. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-controlled Legislature are still trying to hammer out a spending plan for the fiscal year that began nearly a month ago.

California's prison system is already a big-ticket item, representing about 10 percent of roughly $100 billion general fund spending. And with severe inmate overcrowding and claims of inadequate health care for prisoners, a federal receiver appointed by a judge in 2006 has asked the Legislature for an additional $7 billion to get the prison system to run adequately.

"This is a giant black hole," said Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, chairwoman of the Senate public safety committee. "It's a never-ending gravitational force that'll continue to suck away money that should be spent on local government, education, health and human services and higher education."

Seth Unger, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the latest figures for the San Quentin project are estimates at best. He added that the report "does validate that California needs a newly constructed, modern facility to house our condemned inmate population."

The new complex would house a maximum of 1,152 inmates, providing adequate capacity until 2035 if most inmates are housed two per cell, the report said. But if plans for double-celling are challenged in court and the state loses, San Quentin could run out of space in three years.

"We would simply go back to square one after spending all this money," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, whose district includes San Quentin. [Mark Godsey]

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