State leases private jail in California City to ease overcrowding

CALIFORNIA CITY, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - More than 2,000 state inmates will head to a privately operated prison in California City under a lease agreement signed Tuesday.

Corrections Corporation of America will provide a big part of the space needed by the state to meet federal orders to reduce prison overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Shafter officials also hope to get a similar deal by the end of the week.

In California City, CCA will house 2,304 inmates. The three-year lease calls for annual rent of $28.5 million.

"We appreciate the opportunity to expand upon our longstanding relationship with the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) and the state of California, and we're especially pleased to have reached this agreement, which provides an immediate solution to help reach its population goals," says a statement from CCA President and CEO Damon Hininger.

In Shafter, city manager John Guinn said he hopes to put state inmates in the 640 beds of their now-empty Community Correctional Facility.

"I have what we think is a final draft of a contract on my desk," Guinn told Eyewitness News on Tuesday afternoon. "We're looking at it right now."

Guinn said if Shafter gets the deal, that would be about $14 million a year, and the contract would have positive local benefits.

"We're buying food, we're buying clothing, we're buying energy, all sorts of things besides just paying for correctional officers," he said.

As for the staff, Guinn said they'd hire 86 staff for a variety of positions.

"They'll be our employees, everyone would work for the city of Shafter," he said.

And, he explained the city would also employ the correctional officers, because it's a publicly owned facility.

"All our employees are peace officers while on duty, that's different than most of the private facilities," he said.

That's also the case with the CCA facility in California City. Eyewitness News checked with state prison officials to see how staffing will be handled there.

"CDCR has extended the opportunity for current CCA staff working at the facility to participate in the civil service process and become full-fledged correctional officers if they so choose," spokeswoman Dana Simas responded in an email. She said those personnel could get necessary training.

"All supervisory staff (sergeants, lieutenants, captains, etc.) will be current CDCR employees working at a state prison," Simas continued. She said the state expects to have 198 peace officers and a total staff of 568 at the California City site.

The state has been under federal orders to reduce prison populations. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Gov. Jerry Brown's appeal of a state case, and that leaves California under the federal court order to cut its inmate numbers by some 8,000 by next January.

The California City site will help a lot, and the state also already has contracts with two other private prisons. CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas says those three agreements will bring the total number of inmates in the state's 34 prisoners to about 116,578. But she says that still leaves about 4,414 inmates above the requirement the state must meet by January 27, 2014.

So, Shafter's still hoping they can also help out. Guinn said they could finalize a contract by Wednesday or Thursday.

"Until it's signed on the bottom line, it's not a done deal," he said. "But, it does look like we're going to be able to advance this."

Guinn said his community's facility has been empty since late 2011 when the state first started their "prison realignment" plan which put more inmates into county-run jails and programs. Before that, Shafter and other communities had housed inmates for the state.

In California City, that very big facility has also been under-utilized. In August, City Manager Tom Weil told Eyewitness News the facility had only about 900 to 1,000 inmates from the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs.

With the new state contract, those federal inmates are expected to be move elsewhere by the end of December, according to the CCA statement.

State officials say the lease with CCA will help meet the federal requirements on prison conditions.

"The lease with CCA is an immediate, cost-effective, and flexible solution to help comply with the Federal court order to reduce prison crowding," CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas said in her statement on Tuesday.