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Lancaster resists state plan to convert prison facility

Corrections officials want to place 1,500 'special needs' inmates, such as sex offenders and ex-gang members, in Lancaster long-term. City officials say they're already swamped with parolees.

April 08, 2009|Ann M. Simmons

Lancaster officials are fighting the state's plans to convert a local prison reception center into a long-term facility that could house up to 1,500 "sensitive needs" inmates.

The state's proposal calls for housing hundreds of inmates who could be at risk living in the general prison population, such as sex offenders and former gang members. The new accommodations, located on the prison campus, would be equipped to provide ongoing rehabilitative services.

Prison officials said converting the transition center in Lancaster into a long-term facility is critical to addressing a statewide backlog of 1,500 "sensitive needs" inmates who need appropriate housing. They said the inmates need to be living in a regular prison yard where they can go to school and attend substance-abuse programs and other rehabilitation courses.

"It's not just something we're doing on a whim," said Scott Kernan, undersecretary of operations for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "There is no other facility in the entire state system that could house this population."

The reception area was a prison yard until two years ago, so a conversion would simply restore the facility to its original state, Kernan said.

But Lancaster officials argue that the Antelope Valley is already home to some of the highest per-capita concentrations of parolees, juvenile probationers and federal Section 8 housing recipients in Los Angeles County. They fear that establishing a long-term facility for "sensitive needs" inmates would encourage more transfers from other prisons and make it easier for families and associates of inmates to visit or relocate to the valley.

Once released, the ex-convicts would probably choose to remain in the area, said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. "It's a tremendous risk to the community," he said.

Kernan acknowledged that transfers from other state facilities were possible, but said most of the "sensitive needs" prisoners would be from the L.A. County prison system. He met with Lancaster officials Monday and said their concerns would be taken into consideration before a final decision was made.

The Lancaster prison is currently home to 4,800 inmates, according to the state corrections department. Of these, 600 are categorized as "sensitive needs" prisoners. Roughly 2,800 prisoners living in the reception center have yet to be classified.

Lancaster officials said the city saw a 10% drop in crime last year, and they believe the city's efforts would be threatened by the state's plans for the new prison facility.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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