California moves to shut down a third state prison as inmate population shrinks

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

State officials on Tuesday announced they will begin the process of closing Chuckwalla Valley State Prison in Riverside County and are planning cutbacks at six more prisons, including a women’s facility in Sacramento County.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has set March 2025 as the anticipated closure date of Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe.

It is the third prison Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has moved to shut down. The California Correctional Center in Lassen County is expected to close by June. Newsom’s administration also closed the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy last year.

The closures are possible because of California’s shrinking state prison inmate population. State prisons last week held about 94,000 incarcerated people, down from about 120,000 in 2019 and about 160,000 in 2011.

Closing prisons saves money. The state this year expects to spend about $18.8 billion on its prison system. California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office earlier this year estimated that shutting five state prisons would save $1.5 billion a year.

But the cuts all have ripple effects on local economies. The City of Susanville sued to block Newsom’s plan to close the Lassen County prison, aiming to protect jobs in the community. A judge in September allowed the plan to go forward, dismissing the lawsuit.

California prison officials will be deactivating certain facilities at Folsom Women’s Facility; in Pelican Bay State Prison; at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo; California Rehabilitation Center in Riverside County; at California Institution for Men in San Bernardino County; and at California Correctional Institution in Kern County, according to a CDCR news release.

Ending private California prisons

The state also plans to get out of a $32 million annual lease with CoreCivic for California City Correctional Facility in Kern County, ending the contract in March 2024. That will effectively end the use of that facility as a state prison.

Newsom since he took his office has pledged to end the state’s use of privately run prisons, a move that started by pulling California inmates out of facilities in Arizona.

The plan to break with Core Civic marks another milestone in Newsom’s prison plan.

“California City Correctional Facility is the last contract facility in CDCR. It is a leased facility with our CoreCivic partners since 2013, and was necessary to help address overcrowding in state prisons,” prison officials said in the news release. “Now that the term of the lease is expiring and there is additional space at nearby facilities, it makes sense to transition our staff and population into our state-owned facilities.”

CDCR officials said they carefully evaluated the options for prison closures in accordance with the 2022-23 budget and California Penal Code requirements. They also said they considered the costs to operate facilities, the impact of closure on the surrounding communities and the workforce, housing needs for all populations, long-term investments in state-owned and operated correctional facilities, public safety and rehabilitation and the durability of the state’s solution to prison overcrowding.

CDCR pledges to work with local groups

Newsom’s administration promised — as it did with the pending prison closure in Lassen County — to work directly with Riverside County stakeholders to help support workers and “foster a bottom-up economic resilience plan” for the surrounding community.

“CDCR and the administration are working to minimize impact to staff and the communities,” prison officials said in the news release. “This will include options to transfer both within and outside of impacted counties, and identification of employees for redirection to neighboring prisons where there are existing identified vacancies.”

Amber-Rose Howard, executive director of the prison closure advocacy group Californians United for a Responsible Budget, said it’s important for California to have a “roadmap” for future prison closures that focuses on community investment and is informed by the experiences of people most harmed by incarceration.

“Our community applauds this move toward reversing California’s terrible history of prison expansion,” Howard said in a news release. “We hope yard deactivations are done safely, and that they are an indication of the future prison closures we all know are possible over the next several years.”