California budget bill closes Susanville prison

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In this 2021 file photo, a corrections officer searches a subject on his way to drop off his laundry, inside High Desert State Prison near Susanville.

In this 2021 file photo, a corrections officer searches a subject on his way to drop off his laundry, inside High Desert State Prison near Susanville.

Sacramento Bee File

Buried in the new California state budget bill passed by lawmakers and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom this week is a provision to close a prison in Susanville by circumventing state environmental reviews.

The legislation sets a June 2023 closing date for the California Correctional Center, which in March held about 1,600 inmates and employed nearly 1,000 people.

The legislative maneuver appears to be aimed at extricating Newsom’s administration from a lawsuit filed by the city of Susanville last year. The lawsuit claimed that closing the prison violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Penal Code.

The shutdown, first announced by Newsom’s administration in April 2021, was suspended in August after a Lassen County Superior Court judge granted an injunction.

Assembly Bill 200, which designates the state’s public safety expenditures, exempts Susanville Jail and any state prison or juvenile facility from review under state environmental law, often referred to as CEQA. He says the California Correctional Center will cease operations by June 30 next year.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said Thursday the court injunction remains in place at this time.

“Departmental closure activities for CCC continue to be suspended at this time due to ongoing litigation,” Waters said in an emailed statement. “We will notify our staff, prison population and stakeholders of any updates or changes.”

The correctional service launched the environmental review process under the CEQA with notice earlier this year that it was preparing an environmental impact report. The deposit said the shutdown would likely reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, consumption of energy and other resources.

Newsom’s budget plan from earlier this year suggested the state could soon close three more prisons, but did not identify them.

He first announced his intention to close a state prison in November 2019. When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in March 2020, the system accelerated some prisoner releases, reducing the total population by about 120,000 to most recent figure of about 97,000.

Citing population reductions, Newsom announced plans to close the first two prisons: the California Correctional Center and the Deuel Vocational Facility in Tracy, which the administration successfully closed. in September. After the closure, California operates 34 prisons.

California Corrections budget is over $18 billion for the fiscal year starts Friday. The corrections department is expected to spend about $104,000 per prisoner for the year, according to budget documents.

The Office of the Legislative Analyst has recommended closing a total of five state prisons by 2025, which would save the state $1.5 billion annually.

Susanville Jail employees, who are represented by SEIU Local Lodge 1000, protested the closure, criticizing the state’s corrections department for using an opaque process to select which facilities to close. Many prison workers earn $90,000 or more in the remote area near the Nevada border.

Susanville has another prison, High Desert State Prison, which reportedly houses some employees. Others would likely be offered positions at other state institutions, the Department of Corrections said.

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Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. It covers taxes, pensions, unions, state expenses, and the California government. A native of Montana, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.

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