Calif. prison to close, cutting 1,000 jobs from rural community

The California Correctional Center in Susanville has been a home base for inmate firefighter training for decades

By Andrew Sheeler
The Sacramento Bee

LASSEN COUNTY, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration announced plans to close a state prison in rual Lassen County next year, shutting down a site that employed more than 1,000 people and served for decades as a home base for inmate firefighter training.

The announcement follows a long decline in the number of inmates in state custody that accelerated when the coronavirus pandemic hit, compelling the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to quickly draw down its population.

The California Correctional Center in Susanville will close in June 2022, the department announced Tuesday. The 2,064 inmates currently housed there will be transferred to other facilities "based on their housing, custody and rehabilitative needs," according to a department statement.

A year ago, about 120,000 inmates were housed in California prisons. That population is down to 95,223 as of April 7, according to the corrections department.

The department announced it will work with the prison's 1,080 staff to find them other employment options, including potential transfers to other facilities.

A second prison in Susanville, High Desert State Prison, is expected to remain operational.

'Devastating' for rural economy

The closure of the prison, and the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in a county with just over 30,500 people, will take a heavy toll on the community, said State Sen. Brian Dahle, whose district includes Lassen County.

"It's going to devastate the community," said Dahle, R-Bieber. "The trickle down effect in Lassen County will be devastating."

News of the planned closure came as a surprise to Dahle, and also to Lassen County Administrator Richard Egan, who said he got a phone call from the corrections department Tuesday morning.

"We're disappointed they made that decision, of course as they often do in Sacramento, without the stakeholders," Egan said.

Democrats push for savings on prison spending

California over the next year expects to spend some $16 billion on a prison system that employs about 55,000 people. Its budget increased even as its population diminished, reflecting the high cost of providing medical care to aging inmate.

Closing the Lassen County site is expected to save the state $122 million.

Gov. Newsom since taking office has called for closing prisons both to save money and to reflect changing state laws that generally have shortened criminal sentences.

The corrections department in 2020 announced the September 2021 closure of Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, and some advocates have suggested the state could close as many as five of its 34 prisons.

"The significant decrease in the state's incarcerated population over the past year is allowing CDCR to move forward with these prison closures in a thoughtful manner that does not impact public safety, and that focuses on the successful reentry of people into communities once they release from our custody," Department Secretary Kathleen Allison said in a statement. "While these decisions are never easy, they are opening the door for the department to increase efficiencies as California continues to focus on reentry and rehabilitation efforts."

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D- San Francisco, praised the announcement of the prison closure. He has pressed California prison leaders at hearings this year to cut spending, citing the steep drop in inmate population.

In a tweet, Ting wrote, "Closing the CA Conservation Center prison & 2 prison yards — another step in the right direction to address a historically low prison population & saving millions of dollars that could be spent on vital services and programs for Californians."

The California Correctional Center first opened in 1963. It currently serves as a hub for incarcerated firefighters who are trained for placement in 14 different fire camps in Northern California. Those fire camps will be part of Sierra Conservation Center, in Jamestown, according to a department statement.


(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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