The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Tuesday, Dec. 6, announced it will close two prisons —  one in Blythe and another in Kern County that is the state’s last privately run prison — and deactivate facilities at six other prisons due to budget cuts and an inmate population reduction plan.

Affected prison staff will have the option of transferring to other prisons with vacancies within and outside of impacted counties, according to the CDCR.

“CDCR and the administration are working to minimize impact to staff and the communities. CDCR will work to limit the impact to employees affected by these closures and deactivations,” the CDCR said in a press release Tuesday.

In addition to closing Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe and the California City Correctional Facility in Kern County, the CDCR  will deactivate facilities at Chino Institution for Men, California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California Correctional Institution in Tehachipi, Folsom Women’s Facility, Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, and California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.

“Should a significant need for capacity arise in the future due to a natural disaster or other serious need, this option gives the state the possibility to re-activate these facilities at a later date,” said the CDCR, which also noted that incarcerated people at these locations will be rehoused into appropriate level prisons.

Corrections officials said those incarcerated in impacted facilities “will be transferred to other institutions or yards based on their housing, custody and rehabilitative needs. All of their rehabilitative, educational and self-help program credits will transfer with them.”

CDCR officials could not say Tuesday what the prison closures and facility deactivations mean in annual savings, or whether it  expects any employee layoffs and/or buyouts.

Prison closures

The CDCR plans to close Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in March 2025. And as with the recent announcement of the closure of the California Correctional Center in Lassen County, the CDCR plans to work directly with community stakeholders in Riverside County to help support workers and foster a “bottom-up economic resilience plan” for the community impacted by the closure of Chuckawalla, according to the CDCR.

Fourth District Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, whose district includes Blythe, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Additionally, the CDCR will terminate its $32 million annual lease with CoreCivic for operation of the California City Correctional Facility, effective in March 2024, which will shutter that prison as well.

Representatives at CoreCivic, which along with GEO Group is one of the largest operators of private prisons in the industry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Private prison revolt

California Democrats joined Gov. Gavin Newsom in a revolt against private prisons when Newsom vowed, in his inaugural address, “to end the outrage that is private prisons.”

Opponents of private prisons have alleged poor medical care and treatment of prisoners, and CoreCivic and GEO Group have faced numerous lawsuits over the years.

Democrats pushed Assembly Bill 32, approved by Newsom in October 2019, which blocked California from approving contracts with private prison companies starting in January 2020 and forced the state to remove all inmates from private prisons by 2028.

The law was one of many efforts to limit California’s cooperation with the federal government as then-President Donald Trump imposed hardline policies on immigration enforcement. But the Biden administration continued the U.S. government’s opposition to the law on constitutional grounds.

In September, an 11-member panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the state law was unconstitutional as it is preempted by the federal government under the U.S. Constitution’s “supremacy clause.”

Representatives from the GEO Group, which sued Newsom following passage of AB 32 and operates two immigration detention facilities in California, including the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prison population dropping

According to CDCR numbers, California prisons housed 173,000 inmates in 2006. As of Monday, Dec. 5, it was housing 92,552 prisoners. The declining prison population is, to a large degree, fueling the prison closures and deactivations of CDCR prison facilities.

In April 2021, the CDCR announced the deactivation of the California Correctional Center in Susanville. Composed of four facilities, it served as a hub for incarcerated prisoners who were trained for placement into one of 14 fire conservation camps in Northern California. Its closure resulted in an annual savings of $122 million.

The affected fire camps were to become part of the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown to continue supporting local, state and federal agencies responding to fires, floods, and other natural or man-made disasters, the CDCR said at the time.

Criteria for closure

Chuckawalla and California City met the state’s criteria for closure, and the CDCR said it carefully weighed its options and pored over its budget before coming to its decision.

It took into account several factors, including cost to operate and the impact of the closures on the surrounding communities and the prison workforces. Additionally, the CDCR also looked at housing needs and the need for long-term investments in state-owned and operated correctional facilities.

California City Correctional Facility is the CDCR’s last contract facility. The CDCR leased the facility with its partners at CoreCivic in 2013. The prison, according to the CDCR, was necessary to address prison overcrowding, but now there is additional space at other state-owned facilities.

Prison reform advocates speak out

Advocates for prison reform on Tuesday praised the CDCR’s actions.

“Our community applauds this move toward reversing California’s terrible history of prison expansion,” said Amber-Rose Howard, executive director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, or CURB, a statewide coalition promoting the reduction of incarcerated people in California. “We hope yard deactivations are done safely, and that they are an indication of the future prison closures we all know are possible over the next several years.”

The Associated Press contributed to the this report.

California

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