by Robert J. Hansen
Sacramento, CA – California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) are developing a plan to close two state prisons.
The first prison, Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), closed on September 30, 2021. The second prison, California Correctional Center (CCC), is projected to close by June 30, 2022.
The closure of the two-state prisons was included in Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2020-21 budget plan before the pandemic as a result of various reforms and other changes that significantly reduced the prison population.
“Given the need to achieve savings and the decline in the prison population since 2007 the state budget called for the closure of a prison. DVI was chosen for closure based on the cost to operate, the impact of the closure on the workforce, and population housing needs, and prioritization of public safety and rehabilitation,” said CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz. “The reasons this institution was selected for closure are not a reflection of its quality of work and care, and we could not be prouder of the commitment of our dedicated staff, as well as the accomplishments DVI has amassed over its 67-year history.”
CDCR will work with staff on this transition, including possible relocation to other institutions.
Additionally, inmates will be transferred to other facilities based on their housing, custody, and rehabilitative needs. All of their rehabilitative, educational, and self-help program credits will transfer with them.
On September 16, 2021, Lassen County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction suspending CDCR from performing any acts to further the closure of CCC pending hearing and further order of the court.
On October 15, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal granted a temporary stay as it considers CDCR’s request to move the case to another county according to Susanville City Administrator Dan Newton.
“Our prison is in a holding pattern and the basis of our argument is that CEQA review was done prior to the closure and the prison is a public project subject to CEQA,” Newton said.
The preliminary injunction remains in effect until further order from the Third District Court of Appeal. All activities related to the closure of CCC remain until further notice.
“The order is not to proceed until litigation is resolved,” Newton said.
The Legislative Analyst’s office created a list of facilities that would make the most sense to close and CCC was not on that list according to Newton.
“Several of our community members feel that the decision was political based on we’re the reddest County in the state,” Newton said. “And maybe there’s been sort of bad relations between Lassen and the Governor’s office because of Covid-19.”
The reasons this institution was selected for closure are not a reflection of its quality of work and care, or the management or staff.
Staff at the prison can be assured that we will work together to ensure a smooth transition, including placing employees into positions at other facilities whenever possible.
The last time California closed a state prison was the Northern California Women’s Facility in Stockton in 2003.
CDCR has taken additional steps to reduce its reliance on out-of-state and contract facilities. In 2019, CDCR exited the last out-of-state facility, La Palma Correctional Center, in Eloy, Arizona.
Additionally, other CDCR facilities are facing vacancies of roughly 3000 positions according to CDCR information officer Joe Orlando.
Orlando said via email that CDCR has approximately 3,000 vacancies statewide in many classifications including administrative, management, analysts, and peace officers and positions in education, plant operations, food services, and health care. CDCR and CCHCS are actively recruiting to fill these and other positions
“COVID-19 has impacted in-person recruiting efforts; however CDCR and CCHCS conducts virtual events, uses social media, and build relationships with educational institutions to bolster recruiting efforts,” Orlando said.
Ricky Godfrey, an inmate at California State Prison Solano (SOL), has lost yard time and was not receiving commissary packages which are basic privileges inmates receive.
“I haven’t received any packages in about a month,” Godfrey said.
He said there is talk that there are fewer correctional officers because they don’t want to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The guards say things all the time about how if it’s (getting vaccinated) mandatory that they’ll quit or retire,” Godfrey said.
Lionell Tholmer, an inmate at Mule Creek Prison (MCSP) in Ione, says one of the yards was closed down.
“They closed one of the yards down and transferred all those guys somewhere else,” Tholmer said.
He has been given much less yard time and has noticed fewer guards on duty.
“Sometimes we get less yard for certain reasons but not like this. We went an entire week without a yard and when we did I noticed one or two guards when normally there are about five or six,” Tholmer said.
Programs from rehabilitative, educational, inmate leisure time activity groups, religious services, self-help programs, and vocational programs are continuing at MCSP and SOL, according to Orlando.
“However, the movement of incarcerated people may be limited and some programs may be impacted if staffing levels fall under standardized levels,” Orlando said.
According to Orlando, MCSP has recently temporarily redirected 25 officers to California State Prison, Sacramento, because of staff shortages.
“When there are staffing shortages, usually daily, some programs may be limited. We are taking operational steps to increase staffing, streamline supervision, and consolidate operations so that the population can continue to take advantage of rehabilitative programming,” Orlando said.
Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist.