Susanville’s ‘caged residents’ ask court to close CCC

Inmates from the California Correctional Center asked the Lassen County Superior Court for permission to file an amicus curiae brief supporting the state of California’s demurrer — asking to be heard as another voice seeking to close the local prison. They note the design capacity of CCC is 1,733 inmates, but as of February 2021 the prison had an incarcerated population of 4,081.

An amicus brief — also known as a friend of the court brief — is filed by someone who is not a party to the case but has information to provide.

CCC prisoners Timothy People, Duane Palm and Patrick Everett Noel are represented by law firms in Los Angeles and New York City. In April nearly 100 inmates signed a letter to the court also sharing their concerns.

They acknowledge the loss of 4,081 inmates, 1,080 prison employees and their families could cause “massive economic losses ….”  for the city Susanville (population 15,064, including the prisoners at both CCC and High Desert State Prison). But they say “demanding continued shipments of prisoners in order to satisfy the free population’s financial needs has an unacceptably shameful legacy in this country …

“The legal claims in this lawsuit are ultimately pretextual,” they argue. “The real purpose of this case is to keep CCC open so the city of Susanville can keep profiting off it … How but for the bondage of Susanville’s caged residents, the city repeatedly asks this court, will its free residents run their businesses, profit off their real estate investments and fund their children’s education?”

“This case concerns a city’s insistence that it must remain economically dependent on prisoners,” according to the brief. “Susanville claims that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violated the mandates (of SB 118) by selecting CCC for closure. But as the amci explain below, the evidence already presented through Susanville’s petition establishes that the 60-year-old CCC has a lower design capacity than 31 of the state’s 32 men’s prisons, needs over half a billion dollars in repairs and is difficult to humanely operate during wildfires. All of this makes CCC an exceptionally strong candidate for closure … This perspective, which until now has not been raised in this case, has created a rare instance of prison officials agreeing with prisoners that a particular prison must be closed.”

According to their court filing, the inmates claim, “The petitioners and interested parties are purported on a theory the government has contracted out human beings convicted of felonies to serve as an economical advancement for a city of merely 17,000 residents and for a people having no interests in the custody and classification status of each incarcerated resident in the causes of public safety.”

They further argue a dismissal of the city’s lawsuit would protect “the guaranteed civil rights and civil liberties of the incarcerated and our intention before this court is to show grounds for the dismissal and closure of CCC without further delay … ”

The inmates argue municipal governments have no authority to determine where or when the state of California will operate its prisons, and “nothing in California law authorizes a city to insist that the state must continue shipping prisoners into the city to satisfy a financial need for this bondage” and delaying the closure “will not only violate the protocol specified by the legislature and followed by CDCR and the governor but could also expose amici and other CCC prisoners to further harm and retaliation.”

They argue, CDCR should “prioritize aging, low-capacity, over-crowded, high-operational-cost prisons for closure: the only humane and cost-effective way to address the harms at these facilities is to shutter them altogether, not try to endlessly reform, repair and rebuild those harms.”

Prisoner complaints
The brief alleges prisoners’ cells were flooded by rainwater due to leaks in the ceiling and floors forcing the prisoners “to use soap to seal those leaks on their own … One prisoner reports witnessing black mold across CCC and also observed prison staff simply painting over this mold. That prisoner, who has been moved across four different CDCR facilities over the years, characterized incarceration at CCC as ‘by far’ the ‘worst experience I have ever had.’”

They also allege wildfires pose a serious threat to them and during the Dixie Fire there was no talk of evacuating prisoners even though the fire was within 7 miles and they could “see the flames of the fire from our windows.”

The allege, “Smoke filled the prison’s buildings and cells” and the fire exposed them to constant inescapable smoke inhalation,” and as smoke and ash filled the institution, they were forced to cover their faces with wet towels while prison staff enjoyed “respirators and oxygen.” They allege they were without “electricity, lights, ventilation or running water for at least four weeks, and prison staff were reassigned to other facilities forcing prisoners to remain locked in their cells around the clock without access to the day room or phones to contact their anxious loved ones. Prisoners were also forced to go weeks without showering or washing and they described being caged in dark, smoke-filled cells for 24 hours a day while prison staff enjoyed power in the facilities … and watched television or played video games … These kinds of barbaric, inhumane conditions are unacceptable in a civilized society. And all of this occurred during the same months that Susanville was demanding that this court require CCC to remain full for the city’s financial benefit.

The city of Susanville and its attorney have not responded to Lassen News’ request for more information on recent developments in the city’s lawsuit against CDCR, and how those could impact the residents of Susanville.

According to a recent press release from the city of Susanville, “The Susanville City Council met in closed session July 6, 2022, regarding existing litigation related to the announced closure of the California Correctional Center and in light of the trailer bill that mandates closure of the CCC by June 26, 2023. The Susanville City Council directed staff to continue to explore legal mechanisms to keep the facility open and operational, while simultaneously working to open a dialog with state representatives regarding the future of the facility.

“The city remains extremely concerned for the employees at CCC who are struggling through the uncertainty of this situation and also for the economic impact the proposed closure will have on our community.”