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Honor Rancho Readies for New Inmates


Like any good host, Jim Noennick is renovating his rooms for his expected guests.

Noennick is facilities coordinator for the North County Correctional Facility, the maximum security part of the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho in Castaic, which is preparing to house up to 400 female inmates beginning next month.

This will be the first time in the facility's 60-year history that its 10,000 inmates will include women.

New laundry facilities are being installed to accommodate the women's personal clothing, electrical outlets are being modified for hair dryers and stationary bikes have been requested for the fitness area. Cosmetics will be added to the inventory at the in-house store, and the showers are being modified for greater privacy.

"All we're doing is trying to give them as much comparable service as they have had before," Noennick said of the new inmates.

The North Facility, where the women will live, houses 1,600 men in four concrete module living areas. No date has been set for when the women will be moved into the fourth module, but civilian employees were busy this week in the recreation area outside, installing a gas line and electrical wiring for a washer and dryer.

Female inmates are traditionally given more amenities than men, including the option of washing their clothes separately rather than simply depositing them in a central laundry.

"Women are more sensitive to hygiene than men are," said operations Lt. Errol Van Horne.

Most of the women had been housed at the Mira Loma Jail, west of Lancaster, which closed two weeks ago because of Los Angeles County budget cuts. The move is expected to save the Sheriff's Department $15 million a year, part of $25.5 million in cuts ordered by the Board of Supervisors.

In the interim, the women have been housed at the Sybil Brand Institute on the Eastside. Sybil Brand, the county's primary jail facility for women, has a population of 2,175.

Shifting up to 400 of those inmates is expected to relieve crowding that has forced some prisoners to sleep on the floor.

Honor Rancho authorities have requested the addition of 12 female corrections officers to the staff of 140 deputies and custodial assistants at the North Facility.

The 2,400-acre Honor Rancho site opened in the 1930s, when Los Angeles County used it as a "drunk farm," putting up to 300 alcohol offenders to work in the fields. In the 1960s, the work was expanded to include raising cattle, producing hay, and operating a dairy and hog farm.

Those activities have been phased out in recent years--the dairy farm was closed this year--when it became cheaper to buy products from outside sources.

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