San Quentin is California's oldest and best known correctional institute. It houses the state's only gas chamber and death row for all male condemned inmates. California established a State Prison system in 1851 in response to the rampant lawlessness of the Gold Rush. Originally a private enterprise, a temporary prison was set up on the 268 ton ship, the Waban. As it became overcrowded, building began on a permanent facility in 1952 at Point Quentin in Marin County. During its construction, inmates slept on the prison ship, the Waban, at night and worked on building the prison during the day. The prison was known as being as corrupt as the outside world, and escapes and riots were commonplace.
1882 saw the first mass riot when 131 men smashed through the gates; the first race riots occured in 1925 between white, Native American and Mexican prisoners. Riots became increasingly common in San Quentin's later years. Early in its history San Quentin's way of dealing with these problems was with notorious medieval torture techniques.
Famous inmates include: Charles Manson, James Bluebeard Watson, who murdered 22 women, William Bonin, the Freeway Killer, and Jack Ryan, the Coyote Flat Killer who wrongly served 25 years in San Quentin, died in 1978 and was pardoned posthumously.