Lassen County officials and residents are not giving up when it comes to the announced closure of the California Correctional Center.
“What do we have to do to get you guys to reconsider this,” Lassen County Board of Supervisor Chairman Aaron Albaugh asked of visiting CDCR representatives last week.
Earlier in April, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations announced the upcoming closure of CCC, one of the two state prisons in Susanville. The closure, expected to happen by June 2022, will include the loss of about 1,080 jobs. Many locals, governments officials and county residents included, are upset at the announcement, saying it was done without transparency, and without regard to the economic impact to the area. CDCR, however, notes the decision did not come lightly, and was done by taking in to account several factors including staff turnover, cost to operate per bed filled and the decreasing need for dorm housing across the state.
In the past week, many have voiced their concerns to CDCR asking for a change in decision, or for the analysis of the reason behind CCC’s selection as one of the two prisons set to close in the state — Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy was the first selected of the two detailed in the Governor’s budget.
From voicing their anger during the Tuesday, May 11 Lassen County Board of Supervisors meeting, to some showing up in protest on the State Capitol steps on Thursday, May 13, there’s a message coming from locals: They won’t give up fighting.
CDCR representatives attended the May 11 meeting to explain the state’s reasoning for the closure.
Jennifer Barretto, CDCR Undersecretary of Administration, came before the board to speak on the closure.
Referencing a federal court order to reduce inmate populations, and guidance through California Penal Codes Section 2067 and 5003.7, there were many factors that played in the decision.
Barretto said the following:
“CCC had the second lowest occupancy rate of all male institutions in the state, excluding the conservation camps administered by CCC. The only male institution with a lower occupancy rate of the incarcerated population was DVI, which is already slated for closure.
“CCC is not designed to house people who have specialty cares needs, including high risk medical and mental health delivery system. CCC is also limited in its ability to house developmentally disabled people and those with Americans with Disability Act needs.
“Without including the camps it administers, CCC has the second fewest authorized positions of all institutions, but the eighth highest vacancy rate of healthcare classifications.
“When compared to other level 2 facilities, CCC has the second most correctional officer cadets assigned to the institution in the last three years. The adjacent High Desert State Prison has the highest number of correctional officer cadets assigned in the last four years of all adult institutions in CDCR illustrating the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff.
“The cost of repairs needed over the next 10 years at CCC amounts to 63 percent of what it would cost to totally replace the facility.”
The Undersecretary also noted some CCC employees with seniority could bump those with lesser seniority at HDSP, but the department plans to assist employees with job fairs and transfers.
Those in attendance at the meeting didn’t take well, though, to the information shared by CDCR, and many requested the department provide the analysis that lead to the decision to close CCC.
“Despite the warming rhetoric, why can’t we see the analysis,” Egan said, noting the county has been requesting to see the data that drove the decision and had yet to receive it. In the following days, Egan noted he did receive a Second Prison Closure Analysis, but said it did not answer his questions. Egan filed a Public Records Act request May 12.
During the meeting, county supervisors also questioned Barretto on the timeline in which the decision was made.
While the focus on CCC was only “a couple of months,” the undersecretary said the plan to close two state prisons was outlined previously in the governor’s budget and was done over time.
Overall, local officials and residents shared frustrations that the closure of the prison would “devastate” the local economy, cause a dip in housing prices as more homes are put on the market and eliminate one of the larger employment opportunities offered in the county, allegedly further reducing generated revenue from taxes.
Albaugh questioned whether it was CDCR or the governor who made the call to close the prison, and was answered the department prepares the recommendation.
Local officials shared how the closure could affect local services. Interim City Administrator Dan Newton noted public safety was about 80 percent of the city’s budget, and would be affected by potential revenue reductions. Additionally Health and Social Services Director Barbara Longo shared the area could see an increase in domestic violence and child abuse cases as services lose funding, adding “In Lassen County we fight. If you think we’re going to sit here and take it, you’re absolutely wrong.”
Former correctional officers and residents shared how the closure would separate families as some are transferred away for new work, others detailed an instance of a family who finally closed escrow on their house only for the closure announcement to come the following day. Others questioned why improvements were just made at the facility, and said moving away the fire camps would be detrimental during fire season. Others commented on why older, more expensive institutions were kept over CCC.
Overall, local speakers shared frustrations at what they called a lack of transparency on a matter that would greatly affect the town.
“We have no say whatsoever, no transparency, Albaugh said. “You’re killing us, absolutely killing us. We’re not rich, we’re trying to survive.”
Supervisor Chris Gallagher shared his fear the town may not recover from such a loss, saying, “We just had a wildfire last year. We don’t need another wildfire with the closing of the prison.”