City expects benefits from influx of staff
The first busload of state inmates arrived at the California City Correctional Facility on Dec. 17. The prison previously housed federal inmates as a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America, but a deal between the company and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation transferred operations to the state agency.
The contract was finalized in October, and since then, CDCR teams have begun the process of readying the facility, which has been dubbed CAC for California City, for housing Level 2 inmates.
Tim Traynham, a Tehachapi resident and retired annuitant, is one of the team members, assigned as the temporary public information officer. He explained that inmates will arrive in phases, the second of which is expected in February and will bring the population up to about 750.
"As the population grows, they're continually hiring," Traynham said. "That's when staff come in, that's why a lot of the prison right now is empty, because we don't need to fill it with staff until the inmates arrive."
CCA relocated all its inmates by the first week in December, according to CDCR public affairs representative Dana Simas.
The prison will house male inmates. Those who came in the first phase were transferred from Corcoran State Prison and California Men's Colony, which is near San Luis Obispo, Traynham said. The new arrivals were being processed Dec. 18 and meeting with a Unit Classification Committee to be assigned to jobs and education programs as applicable.
Covey said the inmates would probably begin work the following week. Traynham explained CAC has no prison industries program, so the available jobs will include tasks in the kitchen, upkeep inside the secure perimeter outdoors and laundry.
At full capacity, the prison can hold 2,300 inmates in regular housing, and an additional 200 in administrative segregation. A total of 683 staff members will man the prison once it is up to speed, 388 of whom will be custody staff.
Brian Covey, associate warden in charge of operations, roughly 78 former CCA custody officers successfully completed an accelerated training program the week of Dec. 9 and became CDCR peace officers.
"I believe when we first started, there was right around a hundred," Covey said. "There's some that opted out, there's some that didn't pass background, there's some that didn't pass the physical fitness."
Covey and Traynham did not know the difference in background check standards between the state and CCA, which had a contract with the federal government.
"Everybody was offered a job, all CCA employees," Traynham said. "They could have transferred if they wanted to, to Tennessee or wherever they wanted to go, they were offered an opportunity to work with the state. So nobody was told, you lost your job."
For non-custody staff, human resources compared CCA job descriptions with needed CDCR positions at CAC, Traynham said.
"So they basically told the CCA staff that, you qualify for this job, put an application in for this job, and then we'll interview you for that job," the PIO said.
He said the positions were opened up to other applicants, who could compete for the positions, and that human resources did host job fairs in the community.
The prison has various wings, or units, which extend from a central area by hallways measuring 328 yards in length, and is largely self-contained.
"Ninety-five percent of everything done here is indoors," Traynham said. "That could be good or bad, depending on what you like to do."
Unlike common Level 2 facilities which house inmates in a dormitory setting in California prisons, CAC is a celled environment.
Each housing unit can hold 256 inmates, who are further separated into closed rooms containing either 44 or 40 cells, with a common area. Inmates will be double bunked.
"The cells are really big compared to normal state cells," Traynham said. "They do have more freedom in an open-type dorm environment. Because in a dorm, they can just walk around all day long... [Here] they have cells so we have to lock the doors at night... until 6 o'clock in the morning. And they do lock their doors twice during the day because we have counts."
CAC does not have an infirmary.
"So anybody that has to have any kind of doctor's care, has to go out to hospitals," Traynham said. "We do not have the ability here to house them and care for them here. Everybody has to go out."
The CDCR official said they will likely use hospitals in Bakersfield and Lancaster, but also use Tehachapi if staff members need immediate medical attention.
Facility officials are also working in cooperation with California City government officials, including establishing relationships with the fire and police departments.
"We're setting up memos of understanding on response and security issues," Traynham said. "If we were to have an escape, they would assist us in the escape pursuit."
Tom Weil, city manager of Cal City, said the city is pleased at the growth opportunities presented by the prison deal. He also said the city is losing about $150,000 in revenue for the year, since the city was receiving income from the federal government on a per-inmate basis. The city had budgeted those funds to use through the fiscal year, which ends in June 2014.
But Weil said that in the long run, the change will still pay off.
"Even though we've lost revenue, I think the jobs provided and the higher disposable income [will offset the loss]," he said. "Having law enforcement living within the community in abundance obviously will help with [preventing] some of the smaller crimes we see."
Weil said he expects about half of the CAC workers to settle in Cal City, and that the influx will change the city's demographics, attract more businesses, and provide the city with more tax revenue.
"We're off on the right foot," Weil said of the city's relationship with the prison.