The Sacramento Bee
Calif. has criteria to pick prisons for closings
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has plans to shut down two prisons, but more closures could soon be on the way because of the state’s rapidly shrinking inmate population.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state could close a total of five prisons by 2025, which in turn could save an estimated $1.5 billion in annual spending. The corrections department, which has a budget of $16 billion, oversees 34 prisons and more than
50,000 employees. New criminal sentencing laws over the last decade gradually reduced the state’s prison population from about 144,000 inmates in 2011 to about
120,000 last year. The number of inmates in state custody plummeted in the coronavirus pandemic, dropping to about
95,000 this month. Those numbers have some state lawmakers urging the corrections department to close more sites.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation uses several criteria when determining whether to close a facility. Those factors include:
Cost to operate at the new reduced capacity
Impact of closure on the workforce
Housing needs for all populations
Long-term investments in state-owned and operated correctional facilities
Public safety and rehabilitation
Durability of the state’s solution to prison overcrowding
The two closures currently announced — Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy and California Correctional Center in Susanville — have a number of things in common.
Both facilities are old; the facility in Tracy was built in 1953, while the prison in Susanville was built in 1963. Both facilities have hundreds of millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance that needs to be completed, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
And both facilities are major employers in their communities.
The California Correctional Center, in rural Lassen County, employs more than 1,000 people. There are only 8,800 jobs in the whole county, according to Staci Heaton, acting vice president for governmental affairs with Rural County Representatives of California.
Heaton said that the state provided nearly no notice to Lassen County government officials before announcing the planned closure on Tuesday. With the way the government handled the California Correctional Center closing, there’s reason for rural counties to be concerned, Heaton said.
“We’d be crazy not to worry that there will be more closures in rural areas,” Heaton said.
DEFERRED MAINTENANCE IN OLD PRISONS
The Legislative Analyst’s Office, in a 2020 report, provided a list of the 12 oldest prisons that collectively have more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance costs. Both the Susanville and Tracy facilities were on that list.
Other facilities on the list include: San Quentin State Prison, California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, California Institution for Men in Chino, California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, Folsom State Prison, Correctional Medical Facility in Vacaville, California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown and California Institution for Women in Corona.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, has been an outspoken supporter of cutting prison expenses, and he commended the state’s Tuesday decision to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville.
“We spend almost as much on our corrections system as we do for our higher education system, and most Californians would say that’s not the best use of taxpayer funds,” Ting said in an interview.
Ting called the closure announcement a good first step, but said that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation needs to do a better job of identifying potential prison closures, and also of working with communities to mitigate the impact of shutdowns.
One group that celebrated Tuesday’s closure announcement was Californians United for a Responsible Budget. The group challenged the idea that closing prisons will have a harmful effect on the rural communities where they are located, calling them “Republican talking points.”
“Prisons are not healthy employment engines for communities,” Deputy Director Brian Kaneda said in a statement. “They are traumatic, unhealthy places that lead to lasting physical and emotional health impacts for the people that work in these facilities.”