The city of Susanville’s attempt to stop the closure of the California Correctional Center (CCC), one of a growing number of communities resisting prison shutdowns because of their ties to the economy.
“CCC is the second largest employer in our town, so it’s devastating. It’s devastating to our families and to these people who have worked here. We have generations who have worked here at CCC. The prisons have become who we are as a community,” Mayor Mendy Schuster told the Epoch Times.
The prison employs about 1,080 people and makes up more than 45% of Susanville’s employment. One of the people employed there was the mayor’s husband, who worked at the prison for three decades, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“A decision such as this is going to have such a tremendous impact — basically cripple our economy, limit our ability to provide our own public safety services,” City Administrator Dan Newton told the Times.
In April the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) announced that it will close CCC by June 30, 2022. Soon thereafter, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began protesting the closure.
CDCR stated that closing the prison could save $122 million taxpayer dollars per year, according to the Times.
“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,” said CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison in a news release.
CDCR said it gave the prison’s workers an option to relocate to other facilities.
But Congressman Doug LaMalfa of California’s First District saw things differently: “This decision comes as California is seeing significant increases in crime due to poor policy decisions that have resulted in early releases of felons and high recidivism,” he said in April.
According to LaMalfa, the local jails will be overrun with criminals without CCC. The city economy will crumble and the city will be in greater fire danger without its incarcerated workforce.
Similar concerns about prison closures were raised by Tracy Mayor Robert Rickman, in regards to the closure of the Deuel Vocational Institute (DVI) in September. Rickman and county officials said they were disappointed at the state’s decision to close DVI, and expressed worry over what will happen to the city and county residents who work at the facility, according to Record Net.
Rickman also expressed concern over the loss of millions of dollars in revenue per year for San Joaquin General Hospital, which serves DVI and the Stockton California Health Care Facility that provides medical and mental health treatment to prisoners. DVI housed 1,500 prisoners and employed 1,100 staff members, Record Net reported.
The situation at DVI is different from the one at CCC. CDCR said that the DVI shutdown is only a “warm shutdown,” according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The plumbing, electricity, and water treatment plant is still active and some staff are still on hand in case of emergency,” a CDCR spokesperson told the Times.
“Deactivating a prison is not the same thing as closing one; the state must take bolder action,” Luz Maria Flores told the Davis Vanguard. Flores is the Statewide Policy Coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). It is estimated that closing DVI could save the state over $150 million a year.
“What is happening at DVI and with Susanville’s un-incarcerated residents is representative of the complicated relationship between rural economies and mass incarceration,” Sofia Andrade wrote in July for Slate.
Earlier this year President Joe Biden ordered the shutdown of a 770-bed detention center in San Diego. But the for-profit facility negotiated a contract extension with the U.S. Marshalls Service to stay open to house immigrants, according to a San Diego Tribune Sept. 22, 2021.
A for-profit facility in Kansas is using the same loophole of housing ICE detainees to keep getting government money even after Biden ordered that the facility be shut down, according to a CNN report in November.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul also faced backlash after her decision to close six prisons; corrections unions and local politicians objected because the prisons bring jobs and boost the local economy. Hochul said there are more guards than prisoners at these facilities due to decreasing population, according to a Nov. 8 article from Corrections News 1.
Many San Quentin residents believe there are solutions to reducing mass incarceration and the need for prisons.
“Maybe Susanville residents can’t go back to mining and logging, but they can move into infrastructure building, new green jobs that help save the planet, and computer technology sectors,” said SQ resident E. “Phil” Phillips.
Earnest Woods agrees. “They are putting their economy above human rights,” he said. “The solution for the people of Susanville is to get into new job sectors creating energy from solar and wind, building new roads and bridges.”
President Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in November that could provide some relief to Susanville residents.
“Instead of Tesla moving to Texas, maybe the company should move to Susanville,” said SQ resident Rahsaan Thomas. “Instead of using incarcerated firefighters, who get paid $1 an hour, Susanville residents should demand training and a livable wage to fight their own forest fires.”