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California State Prisons


480 Alta Road, San Diego, CA 92179, (619) 661-6500

This male-only correctional facility, known simply as “Donovan,” is located only about 1.5 miles north of the U.S. – Mexico border and just about six miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. There are about 3,559 prisoners there, but the prison was only designed for 2,200. The cells were mostly designed for just one prisoner, but are often stuffed with two. The prison includes a bakery that serves five other prisons. About 85 prisoners work in the bakery, producing 1,800 loaves of bread every day. The prison also includes a shoe factory that produces shoes for inmates throughout the California prison system. It produced almost 2,000 pairs of shoes every day. Each week, Level 4 prisoners there get fifteen hours of “yard time.”

On November 22, 2013, Sirhan Sirhan (the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy) was transferred to Donovan, coincidentally on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Big Lurch and Erik Menendez also served time at Donovan.


31625 Highway 101, Soledad, CA 93960, (831) 678-5500

Salinas Valley, also known simply as Soledad, is a male-only prison located about five miles north of Soledad in Monterey County. It is 283 miles north of Los Angeles and just off the 101 Freeway. The prison housed 3,331 as of December, 2013, up from its design capacity of 2,452 prisoners. The prison was opened in May, 1996. The prison houses Level 3 and Level 4 prisoners.


San Quentin, CA 94964, (415) 454-1460

San Quentin State Prison is California’s oldest and most well-known prison. It is visible like Alcatraz, as one drives by it on the freeway up in San Francisco. Like Alcatraz, it is bounded on one side by the cold water of the San Francisco Bay, daring anyone to escape by swimming into the frigid water.

San Quentin was established in 1852, largely in response to the lawlessness in California during the period following the Gold Rush. During its construction, inmates slept on the prison ship, the Waban, at night and labored to build the new prison during the day. The prison is about twelve miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. The walled prison is made up of four (4) large cell blocks (West, South, North, and East Block), one (1) maximum security cell block (the Adjustment Center), Central Health Care Service Building, a medium security dorm setting and a minimum security firehouse.

San Quentin has the state’s only gas chamber and death row for all male condemned inmates. The prison holds 3,955 inmates as of the end of 2012, much higher than its design capacity of 3,082. While this may seem like severe overcrowding, being at 128% of design capacity, it is relatively low overcrowding compared to many other prisons in California.


5100 O'Byrnes Ferry Road, Jamestown, CA 95327, (209) 984-5291.

Sierra Conservation Center is a male-only, minimum and medium security prison located in Toulumne Country about 320 miles north of Los Angeles and east of Modesto. The prison is one of only two state prisons with a mission of training inmates for deployment as firefighters in the Conservation Camp Program around the state, from the Mexican border north to Central California. The prison, designed for 3,726 inmates, but as of 31 December 2012, it held 4,687. The prison was built in 1965. In 2010, there was a riot there, allegedly involving 50 inmates and three minor injuries.

For Valley State Prison (VSP) to Wasco State Prison - Reception Center (WSP) please click here.

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