Nancy Mullane

Reporter

Nancy Mullane develops, reports, and produces feature stories for This American Life, National Public Radio, and KALW. She is the author of the book Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption.

She is a member of the Society for Professional Journalists, the Association of Independents in Radio, and the International Women’s Media Foundation.

In 2011, Nancy was the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award.

Today is day 24 of the prison hunger strike in California. It started off with thousands of prisoners refusing meals, protesting the conditions in the Security Housing Unit, or what’s also been called solitary confinement. The number of strikers has now come down to several hundred, and last week one of them, inmate Billy Sell, died in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison. He had been there for 24 years. The CDCR has issued a statement that his death a suicide, but mediators are calling for an independent investigation to see if he had received proper care during his hunger strike.

Nearly 500 inmates serving life sentences have been freed from California prisons since voters passed Proposition 36 last November. The law authorized Superior Court judges throughout the state to free prisoners who had been sentenced to 25 years to life under the state’s original three-strikes law if their third crime, or “strike,” wasn’t serious or violent, and thus, not a third strike.

Nancy Mullane

San Quentin State Prison has four massive cell blocks, each identified by their cardinal direction: north, south, east, and west. Of the four, only one houses inmates sentenced to death. None of the cell blocks have been visited by a reporter since 2007.

KALW's Nancy Mullane spent the last year touring the most secure prisons in California, including death row at San Quentin, the Protective Housing Unit at Corcoran, and Pelican Bay State Prison. 

She sat down with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) deputy secretary Terry Thornton to discuss why these stories aren’t told more often.

Nancy Mullane

This story was the first of a six-part series following Nancy Mullane in her efforts to increase media access to prisons. It first aired in October 2012. It begins seven hours north of San Francisco in Crescent City and Pelican Bay State Prison. That’s where more than 1,100 of the inmates considered the most dangerous and influential in the state are locked up in the state’s Security Housing Unit also known as the SHU.

It’s early. About 5 in the morning and I’m heading south on Highway 5 toward Corcoran, a farming town of about 24,000 people. However, that population count is misleading. About half of the people living in Corcoran are locked up in two of the state’s largest prisons just south of downtown.

Flickr user Neon Tommy

California has just six months left to meet a federal court deadline to reduce its adult prison population from 156,000 inmates to 109,000 – in a prison system designed to hold just 80,000 people. The state is not there yet, and it might not meet that deadline. Last week, Governor Jerry Brown said the state's prison crisis is over and he wants the federal court out of the system.

Anne-Marie Mcreynolds/Collective Roots

San Francisco Unified School District recently hired a new meal provider, Revolution Foods – a private company based in Oakland that serves healthier, all-natural meals to over 600 lunchrooms nationwide.

courtesy of lifeaftermurder.com

Between 2000 and 2009, 57,000 men and women convicted of murder were released from state and federal prison.

By the time convicted murderers are released, they’ve usually served decades behind bars; they’re a generation older than when they went to prison. When they come out, they often fade from view – no sensational headlines, no fanfare.  They make their way on the outside in a world that’s can be very different from the one they left.

Nancy Mullane

California has the largest death row population in the United States, with 727 men and women living in four condemned housing units. All 20 women sentenced to death are housed at the Central California Women’s Facility south of Fresno. All 707 men are housed in three separate death row units inside San Quentin State Prison, just north of San Francisco.

Nancy Mullane

William (Mike) Dennis has been on San Quentin's death row for 24 years, and on North Segregation for 17 years. He spoke with KALW’s Nancy Mullane on Monday, November 5 by phone about the climate inside the prison, as inmates anticipate the outcome of tomorrow’s vote on Proposition 34.

In 1851, the government of the new state of California legalized executions. But it wasn’t until 1891 that the state legislature required all executions take place within the walls of one of the state’s prisons.

The state’s first legal execution by hanging took place March 3, 1893 at San Quentin State Prison. Sixty-year-old José Gabriel was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a farming couple near San Diego.

Thirty years ago, the state spent three percent of its general fund dollars on corrections and prisons. Today it spends more than 11 percent – that’s $10 billion running the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 

In 2011, when Governor Brown took office, he inherited a massive corrections problem. The state's 33 prisons were at nearly 200 percent capacity, and the recidivism rate was running at 70 percent. The federal courts stepped in and ordered California to reduce its overcrowded prisons by more than 30,000 people.