economic development group learns about CCI’s operations | New

Attendees at the June 1 meeting of the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council had the opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of California’s correctional facility — and the economic impact of the facility.

Through payroll and purchasing, a good portion of the state prison’s $200 million annual budget ends up in the local economy and, according to Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett, economic value of the CCI for the city and the local economy cannot be underestimated.

In September 2021, the state closed the minimum CCI facility as part of an effort to reduce the number of prisons – and because there are fewer inmates in the system eligible for safe housing minimum.

At the time, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimated the shutdown would save the state about $23.4 million a year by cutting 154 positions. Although the positions were cut, officials said there were no layoffs related to the reduction because many positions were already vacant.

A similar minimum-security facility in Soledad was also closed in 2021, and the California Correctional Center in Susanville was scheduled to close, but the closure is on hold pending the outcome of litigation by the city of Susanville.

The Lassen County town feared economic ruin through the loss of more than 1,000 jobs at one of two state prisons near Susanville, leading to the lawsuit. He alleges that the state violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Penal Code in making its decision to close the CCC.

The previous year, the state shut down the Deuel vocational facility in Tracy. And the latest state budget documents suggest it may be possible for the state to close three additional state prisons by 2024-25. But manager Brian Cates said staff at the facility did not want CCI considered for closure and were working hard to bring in volunteers and support rehabilitation programs.

Garrett noted that the city and local officials are very aware of the state’s plans and are paying attention to them.

“We are very confident that things will go in our favor,” he said.

Population and numbers

Cates and Lt. Eric Barthelmes provided additional information about the institution.

The prison population as of May 31 was 3,039 – in fact, this is an increase from the population at the time of the facility’s minimum closure last September, when 2,746 inmates were housed at CCI.

The facility employs 1,541 staff, including 910 inmates, 373 non-inmates, 205 health care workers and 53 education staff.

Jobs are continuously available, noted the director. He encouraged people to check out the openings online at cdcr.ca.gov/careers.

Barthelmes said the estimated cost of housing inmates is $67,000 each per year, with medical costs estimated at $15,000 per inmate per year. Meal costs are estimated at $4 per inmate per day (two hot meals and one cold meal).

Rehabilitation programs

Programs offered to inmates at CCI include academic and vocational education, religious services, self-help groups, and integrated treatment for substance use disorders (ISUDT).

Many of the people incarcerated at CCI have a history of substance use or abuse and the focus is on related programs. The ISUDT program has two different classes. One is a 14-week outpatient program and the other is focused on cognitive behavioral therapy and life skills.

In July 2021, the facility launched an Offender Mentor Certification Program. Some inmates have the opportunity to become certified alcohol and other drug (AOD) counselors. State certification can be used both inside and outside of prison and in other states.

CCI’s college education program is accredited as Tehachapi Mountain Adult School. In addition to providing basic education, general education development and high school diploma programs, inmates have the opportunity to learn how to use computers and related technologies, take courses by correspondence academics and face-to-face college classes offered by Cerro Coso Community College at the prison. Inmates within three years of release may also have the option of participating in a bridging program.

Paid positions as mentors, clerks and teaching assistants are offered to qualified inmates and a peer literacy mentoring program is offered.

Vocational training is also offered with training provided in bodywork, auto mechanics, building maintenance, construction, carpentry, electronics, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) as well as plumbing and welding.

The facility has also been visited on several occasions by mural artist JR, who in 2019 worked with inmates and staff at Institution B to complete and film an art project.

Barthelmes said the project was featured prominently in the film “Paper & Glue,” which screened in theaters and on MSNBC.

Since 2019, the artist and his team have returned to CCI several times, he noted. Most recently, they were back in April to complete another project on the C install (and film the process).

Charitable donations

Facility staff and inmates also provide charitable contributions to the local community, Barthelmes noted.

Through the Office of the Community Resource Manager, in 2021 the CCI prison population donated approximately $25,500 through the sale of food. Local businesses supported by sales included Kohnen’s Bakery, TK’s Pizza, Tea Donuts, Red House BBQ, P-Dubs, Hungry Howie’s and Albertsons.

Of the funds donated, $14,900 went to the Stallion Springs Foundation for baseball fields, $4,000 to the Tehachapi Seminoles (baseball and football teams), $2,700 to Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Park District, $3,000 to Guardians Around the Earth and $1,600 to the Salvation Army.

The facility has also been visited on several occasions by mural artist JR, who in 2019 worked with inmates and staff at Institution B to complete and film an art project.

Barthelmes said the project was featured prominently in the film “Paper & Glue,” which screened in theaters and on MSNBC.

Since 2019, the artist and his team have returned to CCI several times, he noted. Most recently, they were back in April to complete another project on the C install (and film the process).

History of prisons

CCI was originally opened as a California institution for women in the early 1930s, but the prison was badly damaged in the July 1952 earthquake, accelerating state plans to relocate female inmates to a new facility near Chino.

In early 1955 the prison reopened as a branch of the California Institution for Men, but later received its current name. It was expanded in the late 1960s and in 1985 and 1986 two new maximum security facilities were built. The following year, the prison added a new custody facility.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be contacted by email: claudia@claudiaelliott.net.

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