Local News

Thursday, Jul 07 2011 09:00 PM

Taft, Shafter facilities to lose state inmates

BY PAVAN VANGIPURAM, Californian staff writer pvangipuram@bakersfield.com

The cities of Taft and Shafter will soon look for new inmates to fill their community correctional facilities after the state said it no longer plans to send inmates there come Nov. 30.

The state's move comes on the heels of a clause in California's recently passed budget that gives courts the option to sentence low-level offenders to a county jail, rather than through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which uses CCFs in addition to state facilities..

"The state is obviously having some serious financial difficulty, and we've known that we're vulnerable," Shafter city manager John Guinn said Thursday. "I won't say it's a total surprise. Certainly it's unfortunate."

The move will cost Taft $710,000 per year and could affect 63 employees, Taft city manager Robert Gorson said. Guinn said Shafter would take a $600,000 hit, and might need to lay off 55 employees.

Correctional officers in the city facilities typically are paid $32,400 to $42,000 per year, according to Guinn and Gorson.

Prisoners in the shut-down CCFs, including Taft's 500 inmates, will be moved to other state facilities, said corrections department spokesman Lt. Ralph Jackson. The number of inmates in Shafter's CCF was not immediately available.

Allowing counties to take some of the state's prison burden will decrease the population in CCFs, Jackson said. As a result, the corrections department's budget has been reduced, leading it to terminate its contracts with Taft and Shafter, he said.

But the new rules for sentencing will place an undue burden on county corrections departments, which will have to deal with an influx of low-level offenders, Gorson said.

"The infrastructure doesn't exist in the counties; they're scrambling to come up with the room for new prisoners," Gorson said. "They don't have anywhere near the capacity to accommodate all these new inmates."

To help solve the counties' problems, and its own, Taft is talking with several counties to help house their excess prisoners. If successful, such a deal could prevent the closure of the Taft CCF and save its workers' jobs.

"We think we're providing a turn-key solution," Gorson said. "We believe we're going to be successful in these negotiations."

Gorson said Taft may even get a better deal from the counties and that the state's move may prove to be "a windfall" for Taft.

Guinn was more sanguine, citing the "substantial human toll" that would result from the termination of its contract.

He also questioned the wisdom of having cities contract with counties, rather than the state.

"Currently, the state contracts with Taft or Shafter," he said. "Now the county will have to contract with us. The state will pay the county to pay the city. You've just put another government in the middle of that, and we're trying to fool ourselves into thinking that'll be less expensive. I don't think it will be."

Shafter is also in talks with other counties about the possibility of housing some of their inmates, and Guinn said he would meet with the union that represents its correctional workers next week.

A spokesman for the union that represents correctional workers could not be reached.

James Geluso, spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 521, which represents non-correctional workers at the Taft CCF, said his union would actively work with cities to help them secure new contracts.

"We think the state is making a terrible mistake in cutting the CCFs off," he said. "It's imperative that these cities aggressively pursue other contracts."

CCFs tend to be a less expensive method for housing inmates. The Californian previously reported that Delano's CCF, which was also shut down, could house a single inmate for $17,000 to $23,000 per year, while state facilities average $44,563 per inmate per year.

"The penal system is very challenged," Guinn said. "It's really unfortunate because CCFs are so much less expensive than having them in state facilities. They provide a lot of benefit for those communities."

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