The deactivation of the Level I secure facility at California Correctional Institution Tehachapi is expected to be completed by Sept. 24, according to Lt. Eric Barthelmes, chief public information officer.
Barthelmes shared the information with participants at the September meeting of the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council. At the start of the month, only about 300 inmates remained housed in the old buildings that were once part of California’s first prison built for women. About 100 inmates are said to be housed elsewhere at the ICC, with the rest being transferred to beds available in other prisons in the state, he said.
Dana Simas, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the deactivation was due to the decline in the population in state prisons due to a series of actions taken over the last decade.
Simas said these included legislation (AB 109), voters’ initiatives (proposition 47 and proposition 57) and administrative actions, as well as measures taken since last year to respond to the spread of the COVID-19.
A report from the state legislative analyst’s office released on February 2 noted that the governor planned to close the professional institution Deuel in Tracy by September 30 and a second, unnamed prison in 2022-2023. . Based on prison population projections, LAO has suggested that three additional prisons could be closed by 2024-2025.
The planned closure of CCI’s Level I secure facility was announced on April 13, along with a surprise announcement that the state planned to close a similar facility in Soledad and another prison – the elderly California Correctional Center. age 58, in Susanville by June 30. , 2022.
Although the CDCR estimates that closing the CCC would save about $ 122 million per year, the savings from the impending ITC deactivation are more modest. With an estimated cut of 154 jobs, Simas said the savings would be around $ 23.4 million per year.
However, Barthelmes noted, there will be no layoffs or transfers to CCI related to the Level I deactivation and the staff reduction will be managed through attrition.
There are also no plans to demolish the old buildings. Instead, they will be kept in case they might be needed in the future, Barthelmes said.
In October 2006, the CDCR reached its record population of 173,479, said Simas. As of September 13, there were 99,125 people incarcerated in the 34 California prisons. Of these, 2,746 were housed at CCI.
According to prison population reports released by the CDCR, the CCI level I population was 873 in January 2019 and had fallen to 721 by January 2020, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. By January 2021, the population had fallen to 290 and by March to 285.
Other prison closures
According to CDCR population reports, all detainees had been transferred from DVI at the end of July. And although the CCC’s prison population was down to 62% of its nominal capacity at the end of August, a Lassen County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the closure of the Susanville facility pending resolution of a lawsuit brought by the Town of Susanville.
Fearing economic ruin through the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in one of two state prisons near Susanville, the city decided to sue the state in June. He alleges that the state violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Penal Code in making its decision to shut down the CCC.
The state argues that it has less need for dormitory-style housing, such as those at the CCC and the former CCI Level I facility.
According to an article in the Lassen County Times, on August 23, the judge denied the state’s request to change locations to Sacramento. A hearing on the city’s writ of tenure has been set for October 9 in Susanville.
History of ICC prisons
The facility currently being released at the ICC was part of the first California prison built specifically for women. As noted in a story from the CDCR, women were once held in separate areas of the state’s first prison, San Quentin. But in the early 1930s, the California Institution for Women opened in a remote area near Tehachapi.
At the time, there was little activity in the Cummings Valley, except for ranching and agriculture. Construction began in 1931 and Governor James Rolph was present for the dedication in 1932. In the 1940s the name “Tehachapi” became somewhat famous with reference to the women’s prison in radio shows and movies.
According to a story written by the late John R. Van Westen of Tehachapi – a lieutenant in CCI for many years – the original buildings were constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
“Four permanent Norman-style buildings were erected,” he wrote around 1976. “One was the administrative building and the other three were cottages, a new concept of housing for female prisoners. A fifth building, along the south side of the central land, has also been erected. It was a frame construction, but had a steeply pitched shingle roof, which integrated well with the other buildings. Half was used for laundry … the rest of the space was used for reception and storage.
Van Westen noted that although the building was completed in 1952, the female detainees could not be transferred to Tehachapi until 1933 due to legal issues.
Two of the two-story cottages, he said, were called Davis and Willard. The lower floor of the third was Culver Cottage, a unit for black women only; the upper floor of this building has become housing for elderly women.
The cabins were described as houses, and women were encouraged to play games, read, sew, and engage in other activities, including tennis. In summer, swimming in a small reservoir was allowed.
But on July 21, 1952, the prison suffered significant damage from the 7.7 earthquake that killed 12 people in the nearby town of Tehachapi. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the 417 inmates were pulled from the wreckage by 70 guards and “spent a day on the lawns outside the Director’s Tudor-style mansion as members of the military pitched tents. to shelter them for several weeks. “
Coincidentally, the state was already building a new women’s prison in Southern California. The Times reported that Governor Earl Warren awarded each woman a “good behavior” award worth one month on her sentence, and the inmates were transferred to the new prison.
The people of Tehachapi still accepted the devastation caused by the earthquake – and some had lost their jobs in the prison. The state was not sure what to do with the empty and damaged prison.
“The buildings had damaged roofs and many open windows,” Van Westen wrote. “It was decided to sufficiently repair buildings and utilities to prevent further damage from winter storms. “
So on September 4, 1952, just weeks after the earthquake, 33 male inmates arrived at the prison under the supervision of Van Westen and three officers. Detainees were temporarily housed in former staff quarters outside the fence and officers took up residence in one of the staff quarters.
The camp was officially referred to as Honor Camp No. 50. A correctional officer who had worked at the women’s prison remained as a guard. The inmates took care of repairing the buildings and clearing the rubble.
Van Westen and his team worked with staff from the State Architect’s Office and completed the project in late October. The correctional service then turned the installation over to the Ministry of Finance, its future being uncertain.
Meanwhile, Van Westen wrote, the town of Tehachapi struggled to rebuild after the earthquake with little restraint from insurance or the government. Recognizing the work being done by inmates at Cummings Valley Institution, the city appealed to the state legislature and approved $ 20,000 in funding to bring a work team back to the closed jail. Work began in September 1953. Among the projects completed by the detainees was the demolition of the damaged building of the Tehachapi Valley Hospital to make way for new construction.
In mid-November, Tehachapi looked much better and there was a lot of community support when the state legislature decided in 1954 to reopen the prison as a branch of CIM, Van Westen wrote.
With 22 staff members and 19 inmates, the prison opened on January 3, 1955. Gradually the old buildings were refurbished, additional structures were built and the population increased.
Eventually, the facility was no longer a branch of CIM but known as CCI.
And, as Van Westen wrote in 1976, “it would be impossible to list the many transformations and modifications made to the buildings of the old institution, in particular the administrative building. The rooms have been enlarged, partitioned and remodeled time and time again, as programs and needs changed or new offices were required. This continues and the old staff from years gone by would no longer recognize the buildings. “
Van Westen retired in 1973 and died in 1989. The building formerly known as Culver Cottage, then Culver Hall, was named in his honor and is still known as Van Westen Hall.
Today, the CCI is a collection of establishments, including maximum security prisons built in the mid-1980s, all served by the administrative building built almost 90 years ago.
Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be contacted by email: [email protected]