Susanville Attempts to Forestall the Closure of the California Correctional Center

Mayor contends prison was ordered closed for political reasons

California Correctional Center in Susanville, CA - photo: CDCR

On April 13 of this year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced the upcoming deactivation of California Correctional Center (CCC) in Susanville by June 30, 2022. 

The prison is comprised of four facilities and serves as a hub for incarcerated firefighters who are trained for placement into one of 14 Conservation (Fire) Camps in northern California. Those fire camps will now be part of the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown and will continue supporting local, state, and federal agencies responding to fires, floods, and other natural or manmade disasters.

CCC was originally built in 1963 and encompasses the Level I and Level II facilities, which are a dormitory design. In 1983, the Minimum Support Facility was constructed, and in 1988, the Level III (high security) facility was activated.

Approximately 2,064 people are incarcerated at CCC. There are currently 1,080 staff. According to the CDCR, the closure of CCC is estimated to achieve a full-year, annual savings of $122 million. What the closure means for the City of Susanville and Lassen County economies is potentially significant.

According to a press release, CDCR will work with staff on this transition, including possible relocation to other institutions. Incarcerated people, according to CDCR, will be transferred to other facilities based on their housing, custody and rehabilitative needs. There will be no expedited releases due to the closures.

“The significant decrease in the state’s incarcerated population over the past year is allowing CDCR to move forward with these prison closures in a thoughtful manner that does not impact public safety, and that focuses on the successful reentry of people into communities once they release from our custody,” said Kathleen Allison, CDCR Secretary. “While these decisions are never easy, they are opening the door for the department to increase efficiencies as California continues to focus on reentry and rehabilitation efforts.”

This is the second prison slated to close in the coming year, with Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy set to be deactivated by September 30, 2021. The closure of two state prisons was included in Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2020-21 Budget.

On July 28, 2021, the City of Susanville filed a Writ of Mandamus and an Application for a Temporary Restraining Order against California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Secretary of the Department Kathleen Allison, and Governor Gavin Newsom to stop the closure of the CCC.

The City contends that prior to commencing closure, and contrary to legislative mandate, the State did not conduct review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  

“The State failed to conduct such review, even though there can be no reasonable dispute that the decision to close the prison was a ‘discretionary project’ subject to CEQA,” wrote the City of Susanville in a press release. “Further, the State violated Penal Codes §§2067 and 5003.7 when it selected to close CCC without doing a formal and adequate review, and prior to ending contracts with its private facilities.” 

The latest census data shows that roughly 15,000 people live in Susanville.

“Closing of the CCC would devastate the community of Susanville by putting approximately a thousand of our citizens out of work and crushing our local economy,” said Susanville Mayor Mendy Schuster. “Governor Newsom’s decision to select this prison for closure was done for purely political reasons, and was done without environmental review or proper legal analysis. The City of Susanville is asking the Governor’s office to come to the table to discuss alternatives to closure.”

The Dixie Fire is menacingly close to Susanville today. Several large wildfires are burning in California.

“In a summer plagued by devastating wildfires, closing a fire institution that trains inmates to provide lifesaving firefighting services is unconscionable,” said Susanville, City Administrator Dan Newton. “There are other options that need to be considered, and the City of Susanville is willing to discuss these with Governor Newsom.”

On August 3, 2021, the Lassen County Superior Court granted the City of Susanville’s request for a temporary restraining order. The temporary order prohibits the following acts: “Undertaking any further effort to close the California Correctional Center.”  

“This is a great first step, and we hope it will encourage the Governor to come to the table to discuss this issue with the City of Susanville,” said Dan Newton.

A formal hearing was held yesterday, August 17 in Lassen County Superior Court. According to court records, the issue was not fully considered and a continuation of the hearing is scheduled for August 23.