According to some local residents, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s decision to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville came about because of the large number of signatures collected in Lassen County supporting the recall of California Governor Gavin Newsom and the city of Susanville’s contemplation of litigation against CDCR.
At a meeting of local residents trying to save CCC — the second largest employer in the county just behind High Desert State Prison — held Tuesday evening June 15 at city hall, local grocery store owner Rick Stewart said the decision was “wrong” and called it “rank politics, plain and simple.” A retired prison leader called it “dirty politics.”
Stewart was one of nearly 20 local stakeholders — including local elected officials, business owners, current and former prison employees and concerned citizens — who gathered at city hall to plan a response to the decision made by what they see as the blue Democrat decision makers in Sacramento.
Nancy Cardenas, Lassen County’s treasurer/tax collector said she expects nothing will change in Sacramento, and if the decision can be reversed that will come about because a “grassroots effort” by the people of Lassen County.
“Our big problem is how to figure out how we let people know what’s happening and what the issues are so people will stand behind us,” Cardenas said. “We need to let them know what they can do to help.”
Lassen County District 2 Supervisor Gary Bridges said the board has asked Lassen County Administrative Officer Richard Egan for a report of what the county is doing to oppose the closure.
“We’re kind of putting Richard on the spot, and we needs to be because he’s being pretty quiet about it,” Bridges said.
Don’t look now, but prison closure has already begun
While the CDCR decision to close CCC announced a June 2022 date, prison employees said the closure of the facility has already begun.
One prison employee who asked not to be identified, said Facility A and Facility M at CCC will be closed by July 31 “and that’s guaranteed.” Those two yards house about 1,200 inmates.
According to rumors circulating among prison employees, the Arnold Unit and the training camps as also under consideration for closure soon.
Despite the heat wave and the extreme fire danger threatening the state, as many as four fire camps may have already been closed and while CDCR said responsibility for the fire camps would be transferred to another institution, the local employees said that facility does not want to take on that responsibility.
According to an April 14 statement by CDCR, “Operation of the 14 conservation (fire) camps currently operated by CCC will transfer to the Sierra Conservation Center; fire response provided by the camps will not be impacted.”
The employee said SCC has already said they can’t keep up with the responsibility for the fire camps.
And, one prison employee said the classification of inmates in his yard has changed since April and none of those inmates currently housed there would qualify for the fire camps.
“I have an entire unit that is nothing but ADA and medical,” the employee said. “The only think I can’t house is wheelchairs because they can’t get in the front door … The funny thing was when they transitioned us they told us this transition was designed for previously S and Y inmates (sensitive needs) who had the opportunity to go to fire camp. Well, tell me where they are? … Why am I housing on a level II facility nothing but murderers and sex offenders? It’s frustrating.”
Cardenas said imagine what might have happened when the Sheep Fire burned near Susanville if the inmate fire crews had not been available to fight it.
“It would have been more devastating,” Cardenas said. “That’s what we’re losing when they close those yards.”
“It’s crippling the whole (of) Northeastern California,” Bridges said.
Interim City Administrator Dan Newton, told the group the city’s planned injunction hopefully can stop the closure. The city has not yet filed a legal action, and it’s attorneys are exploring the city’s legal options, focusing on the process CDCR followed in making its decision to close CCC.
He said the city may be able to learn a lot during the discovery process, but first it has to present a strong legal case to a judge.
Newton said the city is looking at a penal code section that requires the state to close private institutions before it closes public ones.
Cardenas said the state constitution requires the closure of private institutions before the closure of private ones, and the state has already violated that provision.
Plans for the future
Some of the ideas plans proposed and/or discussed by the group to oppose the prison’s closure include:
- Explore ways to get more traffic to the whyccc.org website;
- A visit by prison union officials. While the California Correctional Peace Officers Association at the state level has supported the closure and the governor, local guards say local union leaders and members hold the opposite opinion;
- 10,000 informational flyers stuffed into shopper’s bags at local markets and stores;
- Sandwich boards such as those utilized during wildfires to inform the public;
- Collecting residents’ contact information at the next town hall meeting;
- A booth at the Lassen County Fair and a float in the Lassen County Fair Parade;
- Passing out information to CCC employees off site and after work hours;
- A letter writing campaign to legislators in Sacramento;
- A legislative session in Susanville arranged by our representatives in the legislature (Brian and Megan Dahle) to convince other legislators their communities could be next;
- A mass mailing to local residents;
- A local protest or march;