San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin State Prison is an all-male, minimum to maximum-security facility located north of San Francisco, and it was designed to hold up to 3,082 inmates. It is California’s oldest and best known correctional institution, which was established on the site currently known as Point San Quentin, in July of 1852, as an answer to the rampant lawlessness in California at the time.

During its construction, inmates slept on the prison ship - the Waban - at night and labored to build the new prison during the day. San Quentin housed both male and female inmates until 1933 when the women’s prison at Tehachapi was built.

The prison rests overlooking the bay on 432 acres, and is located just 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the county of Marin. 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 provides both outpatient and inpatient mental health services for patients with a serious mental disorder.

The state's only gas chamber and death row for all male condemned inmates are located at San Quentin. They stopped using the gas chamber in 1996, and they now carry out executions by lethal injection.

San Quentin has been featured in numerous films and TV shows. It has been the subject of many books, has hosted concerts, and has housed many notorious inmates. Current notable inmates include Richard Allen Davis, who was sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas, and Scott Peterson, who was sentenced to death for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.

San Quentin is regularly featured on MSNBC’s Lockup, a documentary series about prison life, and inmates at the prison host the podcast Ear Hustle, which is about life inside San Quentin.

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San Quentin State Prison

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Visiting Hours and Rules

Before visiting an inmate at San Quentin, you must get on the approved visiting list. The only way to do this is to ask the prisoner you want to visit to mail you a signed visitor questionnaire.

Once you fill it out, mail the completed questionnaire to:

San Quentin State Prison
Visiting Sergeant
San Quentin, CA 94964-002

The prison will notify the inmate when you are approved, and then they will notify you. When you are approved you will be listed in the CDCR computer as being an approved visitor for that specific prisoner.

If you are denied, the prison will send you a letter explaining the reason for disapproval.

Visiting hours at San Quentin are on Saturdays and Sundays between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. You must arrive at the prison no later than 1:00 p.m. if you wish to visit with an inmate.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has an 800 Visitors’ Information number (800-374-8474) that you can call for up-to-date information about visits at San Quentin. This number will let you know if the prison is on lockdown or under quarantine, or if something else has occurred that has cancelled visiting for the day.

We highly recommend that you read the CDCR’s Visitation Guidebook before visiting an inmate because those 28 pages are full of information, and it will answer any questions you might have about visiting an inmate at SVSP.

The online VPASS system allows you to schedule visits at San Quentin, and this is required if you’re visiting anyone who is in segregated housing or only allowed non-contact visits.

General Visiting Rules

Most San Quentin inmates are allowed contact visits, which are restricted to five visitors at a time.

Inmates in ADSEG (Administrative Segregation) are only allowed non-contact visits where the inmates and visitors are separated by a glass partition. You must have an appointment for a non-contact visit.

You must dress modestly and avoid wearing any clothing that resembles what the inmates wear when you are visiting an inmate. A detailed dress code is available here.

When you arrive at San Quentin for a visit, be sure to bring a current photo ID, and be prepared to be searched and to go through a metal detector.

Leave all electronic devices in your vehicle, as well as outerwear, hats, and sunglasses. Don’t bring anything but the following items into a visit:

  • Up to $50 per adult (only as dollar bills, dollar coins, and quarters) for vending machines
  • A small, clear, plastic purse or bag
  • Two keys on a ring with no other attachments
  • Identification
  • A comb or brush; non-metallic, no pointed end or detachable parts
  • A small unopened pack of tissues or a handkerchief; no bandannas
  • A pair of prescription glasses
  • Ten Photographs, no larger than 8” by 10”; photos may be shown to the prisoner, but must be taken out by the visitor at the end of the visit. No Polaroids. No sexual or gang images
  • Ten pages of documents

Visiting rooms have vending machines stocked with food and beverages that you can purchase and then share with the inmate you are visiting. You are not allowed to bring any food or beverage from the outside into the prison, and you can’t take out any food or beverage bought at the prison when you leave.

Vending machines usually have sodas, water, sandwiches (including burgers), and burritos, popcorn, candy, pastries, and coffee. The prices will vary, but usually it is about a dollar for a can of soda or bag of popcorn and three to four dollars for a sandwich. The visiting room has microwaves, so you can heat frozen items.

The visiting rooms have digital cameras available for photographs of prisoners and/or their visitors to be taken. There is a cost for the pictures, usually two dollars each.

Physical Address

San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

Driving Directions:

General Phone Number

​(415) 454-1460

Inmate Mailing Address(es)

Inmate Name, ID
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

You must include the inmate’s name and CDCR number on everything you mail to a prisoner at San Quentin. The prison staff will inspect every piece of mail, so don’t write anything sexually explicit, gang-related, or anything that has to do with a crime. If you do, the mail will most likely be rejected.

You are allowed to send only the following:

  • Letters (not more than 10 pages in one envelope)
  • Cards (without embellishments such as stickers or glitter)
  • Photographs (limited to 10 per envelope and not larger than 8” x 10”)
  • Drawings
  • Children’s schoolwork
  • Articles from the internet, newspapers, or magazines

You are not allowed to send books directly to an inmate. Instead, they must be sent through approved vendors, like Amazon. To send magazines and newspapers, you must set up a subscription for the inmate, so they can be mailed directly from the publisher.

How to Call an Inmate

You can’t call an inmate at San Quentin, but they do have access to phones and can call you collect. For complete details on how to call an inmate in California, please click here.

How to Send Money

There are three ways to send money to an inmate at San Quentin: 

  • Using the lockbox (check or money order)
  • Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) online (debit or credit card)
  • Mailing a check or money order directly to the inmate (check or money order)
To get complete details about sending money to an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, click here.

​Programs For ​Inmates

  • Prison Industry Authority (PIA): Furniture manufacturing, mattress manufacturing, Code 7370, CTE Construction Labor, Health Facility Maintenance
  • Vocational: Machine Shop, Plumbing, Computer Literacy, Electronics, Building Maintenance
  • Academic: Adult Basic Education, High School/GED, Transitions Pre-Release, Literacy Program, Distance Education for Associate and Bachelor Degree Programs
  • Youth Diversion
  • Religious
  • Arts in Corrections
  • Victim Awareness
  • Drug & Alcohol Treatment/Diversion
  • Bicycle repair
  • Marin Shakespeare
  • Prison University Project
  • Youth Offender Program
  • Anger Management
  • Pen Pals
  • Yoga
  • Gardening
  • Environmental Conscientiousness
  • SQ News
  • SQ Radio and TV
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Veteran’s Programs
  • Reentry
  • Health Awareness

Pictures of San Quentin State Prison

Careers at San Quentin State Prison

If you are interested in a career at San Quentin State Prison, you can find available positions on the CalCareers website.