California has sets it sights on closing two operating prisons, as well as enacting cutbacks at six other prisons, as the state continues its decade-long push to decrease its overcrowded prison population.
A few weeks before the holidays, state officials announced that they planned to close California City Correctional Facility in Kern County by 2024, and Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, in Blythe, Riverside County, by March 2025, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
CoreCivic owns the California City prison, which the state leases and operates at a cost of $32 million a year. The state spends more than $14 billion a year on its prison system, according to the Chronicle.
Chuckawalla is a medium-security men’s prison holding over 2,000 people, 17.3% over its designed capacity, reported the Dec. 9 article.
“Research backs up decades of lived experience that over-reliance on incarceration only compounds the conditions that create violence and does nothing to actually prevent crime in the first place,” said Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also plans to deactivate certain facility yards within Pelican Bay State Prison, California Men’s Colony, California Institute for Men, and the women’s section of Folsom State Prison, according to the story.
CDCR has already closed Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy and is working on closing California Correctional Center in Susanville.
The closure of the Susanville prison comes after a judge issued an injunction blocking the closure. Another judge lifted the injunction in September, and the prison is now set to close in June, reported the story.
Californians United for a Responsible Budget organization has praised the state for these closures. In the past, the group called for the closure of 10 prisons, noted the article.
“Our community applauds this move toward reversing California’s terrible history of prison expansion,” said Amber Rose, the executive director. “We hope yard deactivations are done safely and that they are an indication of the future prisons we all know are possible over the next few years.”
California’s prison population has soared for the last 35 years, starting in the 1970s, and reaching a peak of 143,000 in 2011— just about double the designed capacity of the state’s prisons. This growth was the result of a tough-on-crime attitude and mandatory minimums, such as the state’s Three Strikes Law, which the voters passed in 1994.
To mitigate this overcrowding, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a reduction of over 30,000 in the 2011 Plata Decision to improve the prisons’ inadequate health system.
Lawmakers and voters have responded by exempting less serious crimes, such as minor drug offenses and petty crimes, which have triggered life sentences in the past. These exemptions have narrowed the authority of prosecutors in the state.
The California prison population had fallen to 95,699 in December 2022. This is still 9% above the designed capacity, the story reported.