San Quentin State Prison (SQ)
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.