California to close one state prison and end its lease of private facility

State authorities announced this week that they will be closing Chuckawalla Valley State Penitentiary in Riverside County and ceasing use of a privately owned facility in Lassen County.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials said in a statement that they considered a number of factors — including the cost of running the institutions, the impact of the closures on nearby cities and the local workforce, and public safety needs — in the decision to close the Chuckawalla Valley and terminate the lease on the California City Correctional Facility.

The state pays $32 million annually to a private company, CoreCivic, to hold inmates at the contracted facility outside of Mojave. Officials said they intend to terminate the lease in March 2024 and close the Chuckawalla Valley by March 2025.

The correctional facility operates under a 2010 federal court order to maintain its prison population at or below 137.5% of the prison system’s intended capacity.

The state’s 33 prisons house 92,634 men and women, 109% of all inmates the prisons are designed to house.

Built to house 1,738 people, Chuckawalla Valley currently houses 2,037 inmates, according to CDCR statistics. There are 1,899 prisoners at the California City Correctional Facility. Inmates at these facilities are “relocated to appropriate-level prisons,” CDCR officials said.

The California City Correctional Facility is the last private prison holding state inmates. At the peak of the prison system’s overcrowding in 2006, when inmate numbers reached 173,479 and some facilities held twice the number of people originally built, California began accepting prisoners at six treaty facilities in Tennessee, Michigan, Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma send .

This practice peaked in 2010, when around 10,400 inmates were being held out of state, according to CDCR statistics. California ended its agreement with the last out-of-state treaty facility in Eloy, Arizona in 2019.

Over the past 10 years, the state’s prison population has dropped from 135,323 to 92,634. This total does not include those being held at the California City Correctional Facility or in state hospitals and reentry programs.

However, some prisons remain severely overcrowded, CDCR statistics show. North Kern State Prison in Kern County has an occupancy rate of 153%, Avenal State Prison in Kings County has an occupancy rate of 150%, and Valley State Prison in Madera County has an occupancy rate of 148%.

Opened in 1988, the Chuckawalla Valley covers 125 desert acres in eastern Riverside County, about 25 miles from the Arizona border.

The economic impact of the closure on the nearby town of Blythe is unclear. Ironwood State Prison, adjacent to the Chuckawalla Valley, remains open.

The city manager of Blythe, which has a population of about 18,000, did not respond to requests for comment.

When state authorities announced their plans to close the California correctional center in Susanville in 2021, local officials sued, arguing it would devastate the economy of the shrinking city of 8,000, where about 45% of jobs go to either the correctional center were bound or the adjacent High Desert State Prison.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit in September.

A group of 100 prisoners filed an amicus brief in support of the closure of the California Correctional Center, saying the nearly six-decade-old prison was falling apart. Rain seeped through the roof, they said, and when the massive Dixie fire raged a few miles away in 2021, smoke filled their cells even as power and water were shut off.

Hailey Branson-Potts, a Times contributor, contributed to this report. California to close one state prison and end its lease of private facility

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