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Wednesday, Aug 07 2013 05:39 PM

Taft and Shafter prisons could reopen to ease overcrowding

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    By Californian file photo

    The Taft Community Correctional Facility.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Community correctional facilities in Taft and Shafter that closed two years ago could be reopened to ease overcrowding in state prisons, officials in both cities said Wednesday.

Jeffrey Beard, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, toured both CCFs on July 18 to determine their condition, according to the city managers of Taft and Shafter.

Beard was unavailable for comment, and city officials said they have not heard from the state since late July. But recent legal rulings may increase the likelihood local CCFs will reopen.

A panel of three federal judges has ordered the state to reduce its prison populations from 146.3 percent of capacity to 137.5 percent of capacity by Dec. 31, according to Jeffrey Callison, CDCR press secretary.

The state has appealed the judges' order to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's request to stay the order to reduce overcrowding while it considers the appeal.

The court has not indicated whether it will consider the appeal.

Beard "was very clear about it, that he would only reopen us if there was no delay given. So now, he has to do it. I think it's no longer an 'If" question, it's a 'When' question," said Taft Police Chief Ed Whiting.

If the state's appeal is denied, its options include moving approximately 10,000 inmates to county jails, CCFs, out-of-state prisons or releasing some early to comply.

Beard told The Associated Press this week that Brown will ask federal judges to let the state send at least 4,000 inmates to private prisons to meet the end-of-the-year deadline.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday that he supports a proposal from the governor to send thousands of inmates to private prisons, rather than free them early.

But Steinberg also said the state should also spend more money on mental health and substance abuse treatment programs to help ex-felons stay out of prison.

"It's possible (CCFs would reopen), but it's too early to say for sure, because we're still in the process of expediting all options with regard to satisfying the court. They're not about to open tomorrow," Callison said.

The Shafter CCF housed 560 low-risk state inmates and employed about 55 people when it closed Nov. 18, 2011.

The Taft CCF housed 512 low- and moderate-risk inmates and employed more than 50 people when it closed in late October 2011.

Reopening either prison would take at least 90 days, and would be an economic boon to its respective municipality. Payrolls for the two CCFs amounted to more than $2 million annually in Shafter, and nearly $1.5 million in Taft.

"The overhead from the facility helped pay for a lot of our law enforcement side, taking the burden off the city general fund to help pay for police," said Taft City Manager Craig Jones.

Cities would have to negotiate contracts with the state as to what types of inmates they would receive, and if CCFs receive higher-risk inmates than they previously housed, additional cameras, fences and motion detectors would be needed.

Both facilities have good safety records, city officials said. However, despite typical requirements that prisoners are returned to their home counties upon parole, area law enforcement officials pointed out that reopening the CCFs would mean bringing more criminals to Kern County.

"I think it's a double-edged sword, really. The problematic thing is, they're releasing prisoners into our communities," said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson, pointing out that in the past, prisoners released from CCFs have been taken into Bakersfield to board trains or buses. "Hopefully, they rehabilitate, but if they don't, we've exacerbated the problem."

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