The state Corrections Department opened California's two newest prisons Monday, one in San Diego and the other in Stockton. The openings had been delayed for eight months by a legislative stalemate over the sites for proposed prisons in Los Angeles County.
The two facilities, a medium-security institution for men in San Diego and a women's prison in Stockton, are expected to help relieve overcrowding in the state's 16-prison system, which currently holds more than 65,000 inmates.
"We feel we can use the San Diego prison to begin to deactivate places like gyms and day rooms (at overcrowded prisons) and turn them back into their intended uses," said Robert Gore, a Corrections Department assistant director. He said the Stockton prison will immediately alleviate conditions at the California Institution for Women, near Chino, which is the most overcrowded prison in the state.
In San Diego, the first 38 inmates arrived by bus from Chino on Monday morning. By the end of the day, 110 prisoners, almost all from Southern California, had been accepted into the prison, known officially as the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility at Rock Mountain.
"This is great," Supt. John Ratelle told reporters. "This is what we've been waiting for."
Ratelle said he expects to receive roughly 250 inmates each week until the prison reaches its 2,200-prisoner capacity. Within a few months after that, he predicted, the prison probably will become overcrowded. Eventually, almost all of the prison's standard cells will be holding two prisoners, although state design standards call for them to hold only one inmate each.
In Stockton, Teena Farmon, superintendent of the 400-bed Stockton facility, said that the prison took in 37 inmates Monday and that he expects to receive about 150 each week. The prison is just south of the Stockton city limit in an unincorporated area of San Joaquin County.
The two prisons are part of an unprecedented state prison-building boom that will mean the construction of more than 26,000 beds at a cost to taxpayers of at least $2.2 billion, doubling California's prison capacity, Gore said. He said the prison system accepts 300 more inmates than it discharges each month. There are five prisons currently under construction.
Though partly completed and ready to open last November, the two prisons were blocked from receiving inmates by a law that requires the Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian to first agree on at least one location for a prison in Los Angeles County.
That obstacle was finally removed July 18, when Deukmejian signed compromise legislation naming two sites in the county, one in East Los Angeles and the other near Lancaster, and agreed to consider a third location in the isolated Hungry Valley area in northern Los Angeles County.