Nearly 300 jobs to be cut when part of Calif. prison closes
Part of California Men's Colony state prison will close due to declining inmate populations
By Chloe Jones
The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Part of California Men's Colony state prison in San Luis Obispo will close in November, a San Luis Obispo County grand jury report revealed.
The news came in an annual report by the grand jury, which inspects all law enforcement facilities and detention centers in the county each year.
In December, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced plans to partially close CMC, alongside other statewide closures as inmate populations decline. The stage agency is expected to cut nearly 300 jobs.
However, the CDCR did not say at the time when it planned to shutter the section, known as the West Facility.
On Oct. 26 — the date of the grand jury's inspection — CMC housed 1,649 inmates in the East Facility and 1,691 people in the West Facility. Five other inmates were housed at an outside hospital at that date, the report noted.
CMC currently has a maximum capacity of 4,480 inmates, which includes a 50-bed mental health crisis unit.
Report: Part of CMC to close has security concerns
CMC's West Facility is a Level I and II complex with four independent facilities. It houses medium- and minimum-security, non-designated programming facility inmates in a dormitory setting, according to the department's website.
According to the grand jury report, three of the four facilities in the West section are scheduled for closure by Nov. 6.
The fourth facility houses the Cuesta Fire Crew, inmates trained to fight wildland fires throughout the state. It will remain open.
The firefighting training program is run by Cal Fire, the report said, and is a "unique work training opportunity for inmates."
More than 50 inmates are involved in the program, which deducts a day from each inmate's sentence for each day worked in the field assisting Cal Fire.
The other work programs in the West Facility include a culinary arts program and a K9 program, the report said.
Inmates who study culinary arts can graduate with certificates to work in a commercial kitchen upon release. That certificate is also transferable to the California State University system.
In the K9 program, inmates train dogs to be service animals to first responders and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the report, CMC officials said the K9 program has "life-changing value," by allowing inmates to experience unconditional love. One of the first inmates to graduate from the program was inspired to become a K9 trainer after being released, the grand jury said.
Buildings in the West Facility are "quite old," the report said, adding that most were built more than 75 years ago as military barracks during World War II.
The buildings appear in reasonable condition for their age, the report said, but there are security concerns in the northwest corner of the West Facility — an issue that has remained over past years. The grand jury said the corner could be a potential area for people to throw drugs or cell phones over the fence for inmates to smuggle inside.
The closure of the West Facility adds to challenges for planning and resource allocation at part of the state prison, the report found.
State prison opens new pathway to mental health clinic
Although the West Facility of the prison is closing, the report said, the East Facility has received an upgrade.
The East Facility is a medium-security five-unit facility for Level III inmates.
CMC opened a new mental health clinic in the East Facility in July 2020, and recently opened a new secured pathway and entry into its mental health clinic from administrative segregation units, the report said.
Administrative segregation units are for inmates who are deemed security risks and cannot be safely housed with the general population, according to the state Department of Corrections.
It's consider a highly restrictive form of housing, with inmates spending 22 to 23 hours a day in their cells with limited time outside to exercise and shower.
The new pathway allows inmates to access mental health care without traveling through the general population, the report said, which improves security and confidentiality for the inmates in the units.
The East Facility has four yards, each with kitchen and eating facilities, the report said.
One yard has an "extensive mural project" where inmates have created "vibrant, large-scale outdoor art," the report said.
A mentor certification program, substance abuse program and integrated substance use disorder treatment program also operate in the prison's East Facility.
Currently, inmates in the East Facility all have their own cells.
Inspected cells were clean and well lit, the report said, but "absence of air conditioning in the more than 60-year-old cells blocks is an issue."
The report said there seems to be mutual respect between inmates and correctional officers throughout the prison.
Prison leadership said gang activity at CMC is minimal.
It is unclear whether the culinary and K9 programs will be cut alongside the closure, or if they will be moved to the East Facility.
According to the report, those programs are meant for inmates who are lower-risk and would not usually be housed in the East Facility.
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