The Process of Sending the Golden State Killer to Prison

He’s managed to dodge death row. Here’s what will happen instead.

“I did all those things,” Ho said DeAngelo muttered. “I’ve destroyed all their lives, so now I’ve got to pay the price.”

This is how we’ve typically seen him. Credit: AP News

Joseph DeAngelo has pled guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of kidnapping. He also admitted guilt in 62 other crimes, including rapes, robbery, and more. These crimes weren’t charged because the statute of limitations protected him from prosecution.¹ Before his plea, special circumstances were attached, which meant the death penalty if guilty.²

I’m on the record as being opposed to the death penalty. As you might think, my opposition has little relevance to what was going to happen. The charges were filed, and the death penalty was in play. Had we stayed on our pre-Coronavirus path, he was on pace for trial and would have been convicted and incarcerated on death row at San Quentin.

Death row versus LWOP (Life Without Parole)

Our Death Row had nearly 750 inmates. We have the “largest death row in the United States.” Death row housing has been shifting as San Quentin experienced a tremendous Covid outbreak this spring. Setting aside the irony that death row inmates might die from Covid, it’s resulted in many getting mixed into the general population in other state-run prisons. You can see the list of California death row tenants; some of these men have been on the row for more than 30 years.

But DeAngelo took a plea.

The “party line” is he took it to avoid the death penalty, but that’s bogus logic. Many survivors think he pled because there are secrets he doesn’t want revealed. My hypothesis is he is protecting his girls. We’ll likely never understand his motivation. His plea entitles him to life without parole, or LWOP as the prosecutors’ quip as they explained this next park.

The next acronym they used is “PC,” protective custody.

PC is a group of inmates segregated from the general prison population for their safety. Prisoners who feel physically threatened by other inmates can request protective custody at any time. The reason they might put him in protective custody is apparent. His fellow inmates are likely to try and kill him because child molesters are not looked upon favorably. And he is a child molester because he raped women under 18.

Or he could be put in ad seg.

Administrative segregation (ad seg) is solitary confinement, otherwise defined as the jail within the prison. Inmates placed in ad seg are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day with no programs and very few privileges: no phones, no TV, little property. They can still write letters. I found answers to a question somebody asked about what’s it like to live in protective custody? I found a Reddit thread that provides the context, the language, and the reality of PC. I apologize in advance for providing this rabbit hole.

I enjoy studying cultures, and prison culture is unique and appears to operate with a lot of judgment. It fascinates me that people, no matter where they are, even when we’ve decided they don’t want to be part of our society, still create micro-communities to establish a sense of order. There is a hierarchy or a pecking order, and lots of unspoken rules. Every time I think about this, it’s why I’m thrilled DeAngelo won’t be on death row. He’s going to have to deal with his neighbors — and this has never been his strong suit.

Where will DeAngelo end-up serving time? It begins with intake, otherwise knowns as Reception.

Where he’s assigned is up to the California Department of Corrections (DOC). I think because we’re prosecuting in Sacramento, he could end up at Folsom. There’s a good chance because they might put him close to his family.

But it’s not a guarantee at all. It has everything to do with crowding and other variables.

First, they will transport him to a prison (determined by DOC). He starts at the prison Reception Center (do you not love the name?). The inmate goes through the reception and classification process, and this can take up to 120 days. Once they review all the inmate’s case factors, he’s assigned a classification score. Now, things start to get interesting.

The classification process results in a classification score. His score determines his housing level and his final destination. They also consider the inmate’s family’s location. However, being placed near his family is not guaranteed due to other mitigating factors.

During this process, there are no family visits. They get one half of the maximum monthly canteen draw.

Because I happen to know someone in prison, I now understand if you’re going to survive, you have to be getting money from somewhere. If you don’t have any money, you won’t have anything. You can’t get a cigarette. You can’t get a granola bar; you can’t get coffee. DeAngelo will be on a limited budget because he’ll only get half of the maximum monthly draw. He can have telephone calls on an emergency basis as determined by the staff and no personal packages. They also get a phone call within the first week.

The institution monitors calls, so he’s not given privacy. He can also receive mail and have writing supplies. Most prisons allow inmates to send and receive mail (and paid email). He can also have visitors, but they must apply and be approved. It doesn’t sound like it’s easy. Here’s more about how it works in California prisons.

After he completes his time in reception, he heads to his final destination.

Each inmate is assigned to a facility based on their security level, and it has to correspond to their placement score. They determine placement scores after a review of the inmate’s case factors. It includes their age, the crime or crimes they have committed, if violence was used, if they’ve been arrested before and incarcerated, and their gang involvement. Each year this is reviewed to determine if the inmate meets the criteria to have their score reduced.

You can get your score reduced. You can get better placement over time if you behave well. And if you act like a jackass, your score can go up.

  • A placement score of 0–18 earns a level one facility. These are the camps consisting primarily of open dormitories with low-security perimeters.
  • A placement score of 19–35 gets placed in a level-two facility, which consists primarily of open dormitories or dormitories with a secure perimeter, which may include armed security.
  • A placement score of 36–50 is placed in a level three facility with a secure perimeter with armed security and housing units with cells adjacent to exterior walls. Here, you’re not in an open dormitory. You have a cell that you share with someone who I’m sure is lovely, and you hope isn’t flatulent.
  • A placement score of 60+ is level four. These facilities have a secure perimeter with internal and external armed coverage and housing units or cell blocks with non-adjacent cells that are not adjacent to exterior walls. I guess that means they can’t see outside at all.

It’s our understanding, based on what we learned from the prosecutors, DeAngelo will qualify for level four.

After they review all these factors, DeAngelo is assigned to a facility. This process could take another 45 to 60 days. The move happens as soon as the inmate is assigned an empty bed, and there’s a bus seat available (such practical things!). Once he arrives at “his” prison, it could take another 45 to 60 days to get housed in his tier-level assignment.

So, where will he end up? We don’t know. There are nine California facilities listed as level four (here’s a map):

We could do some online betting about this, but I think that’s illegal.

Joseph DeAngelo will be in court for Victim Impact Statements on August 18–20 and sentenced on August 21, 2020. All should be streamed live. I’m hosting a live Zoom discussion after each day’s events, hopefully with some of the other victims as guests, so we can hear your impressions of the day (register here).

Prefer to listen instead of read? Here’s the podcast companion for this piece.

¹The statute of limitations is applied to crimes based on the date they are committed, not the date of arrest. In the 1970s, rape was only chargeable within three years of the crime. Today, there is no longer a statute on rape.

²California has a long history of struggling with the death penalty.

With a master’s in Strategic Communication, I’ve helped more companies in Silicon Valley than a cat has lives! More

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