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Inside US Prison Dubbed 'The Arena' That's Home To The Largest Death Row

by : Claire Reid on :
Inside US Prison Dubbed 'The Arena' That's Home To The Largest Death Row
Inside US Prison Dubbed 'The Arena' That's Home To The Largest Death Row (Alamy)

America’s largest death row unit is found inside a prison dubbed ‘The Arena’ that has house some of the most notorious criminals ever to have lived. 

California's San Quentin has had a nightmare inducing list of violent inmates over the years including serial killers Rodney Alcala and Nightstalker Richard Ramirez and murderous cult leader Charles Manson. 

Its death row unit is the only one in California and has put to death 421 convicts since 1893 using a variety of methods including hanging and the gas chamber. 

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San Quentin's death row. Credit: Alamy
San Quentin's death row. Credit: Alamy

Since the mid-90s, much like the rest of the US states that still have capital punishment, executions are carried out by lethal injection. 

Although, none have taken place at San Quentin since 2006, when 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen was killed via lethal injection for the murders of three people. 

At the time of his death, 76-year-old Allen was the second-oldest US inmate to be executed.

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Although notable inmates Ramierz, Manson and Alcala all spent time at San Quentin, none of them were executed. 

Ramirez died of lymphoma when he was 53, Mason died of cancer at hospital aged 83, and Alcala died of natural causes aged 77. 

Richard Ramirez was housed at San Quentin. Credit: Alamy
Richard Ramirez was housed at San Quentin. Credit: Alamy

However, the prison has executed hundreds of others, including serial killer Donald Beardslee, who murdered three women between 1969 and 1981. He was executed via lethal injection in 2005 having spent 19 years at San Quentin.

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In March 2000, serial killer Darrell Keith Rich - known as The Hilltop Rapist - was also convicted at the unit for the murders of three women and an 11-year-old girl in the summer of 1978.

He declined a final meal, instead opting for just tea, Gatorade and broth. When asked if he had any final words he said: “Peace.”

San Quentin currently has over 700 criminals on death row, but these inmates are in the process of being moved out of the unit following an executive order from Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019. 

San Quentin prison in California. Credit: Alamy
San Quentin prison in California. Credit: Alamy
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Newsom issued a moratorium on capital punishment in California three years ago, saying: “I cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings, knowing that among them will be innocent human beings. 

“I believe the death penalty is wrong and I am exercising my right pursuant to the will of the voters and the constitution.”

And in January this year, the prison said it was closing down its death row to make room for ‘something innovative’.

Corrections department spokesperson Vicky Waters said: “We are starting the process of closing death row to repurpose and transform the current housing units into something innovative and anchored in rehabilitation.”

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Claire Reid

Claire is a journalist at UNILAD

Topics: News, US News, Crime