Layoffs possible at two Calif. state prisons as plan to close one moves forward

The state outlined a timetable in a memo Tues. for closing the California Correctional Center, which employed about 700 people and held about 2,300 prisoners as of June


By Wes Venteicher
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is moving forward with its plan to close a state prison in Susanville, including orchestrating a reshuffling of employees that could end with layoffs in June.

The department outlined a timetable in a memo Tuesday for closing the California Correctional Center, which employed about 700 people and held about 2,300 prisoners as of June.

The California Correctional Center in Susanville, Calif. is pictured in this undated file photo. The state outlined a timetable in a memo Tuesday for closing the California Correctional Center, which employed about 700 people and held about 2,300 prisoners as of June. (Photo MCT/Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
The California Correctional Center in Susanville, Calif. is pictured in this undated file photo. The state outlined a timetable in a memo Tuesday for closing the California Correctional Center, which employed about 700 people and held about 2,300 prisoners as of June. (Photo MCT/Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times) (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The memo came three weeks after a judge ruled in Lassen County Superior Court that the closure could proceed despite a legal challenge from the city of Susanville.

Layoffs of state employees in California are rare and heavily regulated, requiring departments to submit layoff plans to the state Human Resources Department.

At the prisons, seniority privileges give employees the chance to “bump” less-experienced peers — even in other institutions — from their jobs.

The memo specified that California Correctional Center employees would have bumping privileges in Lassen County, which is also home to High Desert State Prison. Employees at both institutions will receive “seniority scores” that will be used to determine who keeps their jobs, the memo states.

The neighboring prison is larger: As of the most recent statistical report it held about 1,900 prisoners and employed 887 people. The report said there were 337 vacant positions, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to open jobs. California’s application portal shows only three openings.

Employees also have chances to avoid layoffs by transferring voluntarily — and early in the process — to open positions outside Lassen County. They can search for jobs at other agencies through the State Restrictions of Appointment program.

“The department is focusing on minimizing impact to both the staff and the incarcerated population, and will be ensuring there is ongoing communication and transparency as the process moves forward,” corrections department Dana Simas said in an email Wednesday.

The prisons are major employers in the remote Northern California county, and many of the jobs pay $90,000 or more per year.

California’s correctional budget is about $18 billion for this fiscal year, including spending of $104,000 per prisoner, according to budget documents.

Budget analysts have said that closing prisons is one of the few ways to achieve substantial savings within the correctional system. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that closing five state prisons by 2025 would save $1.5 billion per year.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration last year closed Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, reducing the number of state-run prisons to 34. His recent budget suggested the state could move to close three more as the state incarcerates fewer people due to the coronavirus and sentencing changes.

Newsom’s moves to close the sites follows a substantial decline in the state’s prison population over the past decade. About 96,000 inmates are serving sentences in state prisons today, down from about 160,000 in 2011.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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