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Jerry Brown eyes putting state guards in private prison

August 22, 2013|By Paige St. John
  • California prison officials are considering moving inmates to the private prison in California City. It currently holds detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
California prison officials are considering moving inmates to the private… (Immigration and Customs…)

This post has been corrected and updated. See the notes below for details.

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown is negotiating a deal that would staff a private prison in Kern County with state guards and give California its 35th lockup.

"It's a win-win," said Joe Baumann, finance director for the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., the state's powerful union for prison guards.

Under the arrangement, the state would lease a medium-security prison in California City, in the Mojave Desert, owned by Corrections Corp. of America, and then operate the prison as if it was a state-owned facility.

The prison now houses federal immigration detainees. The proposal to lease the private prison remains under negotiation.

If an agreement is reached, it would add a 2,300 beds to the state prison system -- a major step in the state's efforts to abide by a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. California is required to remove 9,600 inmates from its existing 34 prisons by the end of the year.

Baumann said it would provide some 700 to 800 jobs for corrections officers, but most of those employees would come from other state prisons as the state reduces its staffing needs there. "It's not a huge net gain," he said.

The agreement also would reduce the state's need to lease prison beds from non-unionized private prisons.

CCA already houses about 9,000 California inmates in its facilities in Mississippi, Arizona and Oklahoma.

"CCA has a really long history of not properly staffing its prisons, so it’s better for everybody that we take that facility over," Baumann said.

[Updated 5:27 p.m. Aug. 22: A spokesman for the Tennessee-based prison company did not confirm the negotiations but defended its staffing practices, saying the Kern County prison is "appropriately staffed by trained corrections professionals."

"Similarly, the facilities where we currently house California inmates are monitored regularly by the federal receiver's office as well as CDCR officials," said spokesman Steve Owen. "All of these facilities, including the facility in Kern County, are independently accredited by the American Correctional Assn. -- the national gold standard for correctional management, and further validation of our commitment to operating safe, secure facilities with trained professionals."]

Brown has until the end of the year to shrink the state's prison population, and his administration has stressed it will try to find enough outside prison beds to meet the court's targets. The state also is discussing potential lease agreements with private prison operator Geo Group as well as Alameda County and the Kern County town of Shafter.

The governor has confirmed he will soon ask lawmakers for money to fund that prison expansion, potentially eating into a hard-won budget surplus and offsetting a two-year move by Brown to shrink prison spending.

Assembly budget chairwoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said Thursday she has not yet seen specifics but expects a proposal from the governor soon. Skinner said she opposes any long-term expansion of the state prison system.

"My concern would want to make sure it is temporary and not permanent," she said.

[Updated 4:11 p.m. Aug. 22: There was no immediate confirmation from Brown’s press office or from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"The administration is working on a range of options with the Legislature," corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said in a single-sentence statement.]

[For the record, 3:11 p.m. Aug. 22: A previous version of this post said California had prisoners in private prisons in Arkansas. The correct state is Oklahoma.]

ALSO:

California seeks private prison deals

Prison policy is a legislative wildcard

California prisons could free 1,000 to reduce overcrowding

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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