The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced late Tuesday that the California Correctional Center in Susanville will be closing.
The Susanville Prison, which opened up in Lassen County in 1963, currently houses around 2,000 prisoners, employs more than 1,000 people, and includes a training center for inmate firefighters. Within the next 14 months, all inmates will be transferred to other prisons in the state, prison workers will either be let go or transferred to other facilities, and prisoner wildfire firefighter training will be moved to the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown outside of Stockton.
“Today, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced the upcoming deactivation of California Correctional Center (CCC) in Susanville by June 30, 2022,” the CDCR said in a statement. “The prison is comprised of four facilities and serves as a hub for incarcerated firefighters who are trained for placement into one of 14 Conservation Camps in Northern California. Those fire camps will now be part of the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown and will continue supporting local, state, and federal agencies responding to fires, floods and other natural or manmade disasters.”
While the state has announced previous prison closures in recent years, with the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy closing by October of this year and the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi and the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad also closing by July 2022, a rapidly decreasing prison population had spurred the CDCR to announce the Susanville closure.
Changes to California’s sentencing laws a decade ago and the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, which made many felony level crimes into misdemeanors, are partially responsible for the prison’s closure due to drastically reducing the number of CDCR inmates. The Legislative Analyst’s Office found that between 2006 and 2018, the total number of prisoners in the state went down 26 percent from about 173,000 to 128,000 inmates, with prison incarceration rates also dropping by 32 percent from 474 to 321 inmates per 100,000 Californians during the same 13 year period.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is also partially to blame, as state officials have ordered the early release of tens of thousands of low-risk prisoners sine April 0f 2020, rapidly draining the inmate population in places like Susanville.
The closures, as well as the estimated $122 million in projected savings from the Susanville closure alone, have led many to applaud Governor Gavin Newsom on meeting his pledge of closing at least one prison during his term. Many lawmakers specifically noted that the closure would help bring a fairer criminal justice system to the state.
“I applaud Governor Newsom’s announcement to close a second prison, the California Correctional Center, a step in the right direction as our nation continues to come to terms with a racial reckoning in the criminal justice system,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) in a statement on Wednesday. “This move helps save California taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing the footprint of the state’s costly, aging prison system. Simply put, closing prisons frees up resources to reimagine our justice system and invest in changes matched with dollars for vital programs and services that our communities need to improve outcomes and reduce recidivism in the long term and further create a more just system for all, irrespective of your skin color.”
I 👏🏽👏🏽 @CAgovernor’s announcement to close a 2nd prison in California. Simply put, closing prisons frees up resources to reimagine our justice system & invest in changes, matched w/ $$ for vital programs & services our communities need.
— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) April 14, 2021
Many in Lassen County, across state outraged over Susanville prison closure
However, the announcement left others up in arms, who were not only outraged at the closure, but also because of the effect it would have on Lassen County, and how they treated employees by informing them of the closure via a press release.
“As the two elected state representatives for Lassen County, we were shocked and appalled by CDCR’s announcement to close CCC,” said Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R-Bieber) and Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) in a joint statement Tuesday.
“We received no prior notice regarding the decision by CDCR. The lack of transparency and opportunity for public input in making such a significant decision is abhorrent. This decision completely undermines the little trust our constituents had left in this administration and proves yet again that the leaders of our state agencies couldn’t care less about the livelihood of residents of the North State.”
“The impact of this decision on our North State communities will be devastating. Our communities have already suffered a dramatic increase in unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Now, without warning or notice to the public, the state has arbitrarily dictated that it will be upending the livelihood of over 1,000 employees and their families. Constituents of the North State deserve better from their government. The fact employees were notified of the closure through a press release is unacceptable.”
“This gross misstep by a state agency is a slap in the face to hardworking employees, and correctional officers and their families, who have served on the frontlines during this pandemic and sacrificed a great deal to ensure our communities remain safe.”
Many others opposed to the closure also noted that, despite the recent drops in prisoners, COVID-19 backlogs have left over 10,000 people in California in local and county jails awaiting transfer to state prisons, bringing a strong surge at a time when prisons are undergoing consolidations. While the CDCR says that they had accounted for this, many law experts fear that the surge combined with a fewer number of prisons will bring back overcrowding to the state penal system once again.
“It’s a hell of a gamble to close several prisons, costing thousands of people their jobs in areas hard hit by the recession, while also expending a large increase of prisoners coming into the system very soon,” said criminal lawyer Stephen Reed to the Globe on Wednesday. “COVID messed a lot of things up, but we need to see how the system shifts back first before taking any drastic action. They’re doing that before the prison system goes back up to normal. That doesn’t seem well thought out.”
As of Wednesday, there is no word on what will happen to the site of the Susanville prison, once one of the state’s largest prisons, after July 2022.
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