Four southern San Joaquin Valley cities with empty jails have been told by state prison officials to prepare to reopen them, although details about when inmates would move in are fuzzy.
Needing to put a dent in the 120,000 statewide prison population, the state is arranging to reopen Community Correctional Facilities -- lower-security dormitory-style jails -- in Taft, Shafter, Coalinga and Delano, said Jeffrey Beard, director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
California is under a federal court order to lower the population by year end to 137.5% of capacity, or 8,000 fewer inmates. This week, the Brown administration sought a deadline extension.
The 500-bed facilities in Taft and Shafter would open first, although no dates have been set, Beard said.
He said he spoke with Delano and Coalinga city managers this week about reopening the jails, which were built with state money.
That's music to the ears of officials in Coalinga, which owns and operates the 569-bed Claremont Custody Facility and is spending $200,000 a year to maintain it.
"It's good that they are thinking about it," said City Manager Rene Ramirez. "We can put together a project and get bids, then push something through."
Two years ago, Coalinga closed Claremont when the state, which had contracted with the southwestern Fresno County city to house inmates, ended the contract to save money.
While open, Claremont employed 90 and boosted the local economy with a $5 million annual payroll.
The jail also was a boon to the city's treasury. Revenues exceeded expenses by $1.1 million annually, and inmates did low-cost manual work around the city.
Ramirez said the city can hire new jail staff in two to three months but must build perimeter fencing to meet state requirements.
Because higher-security inmates will be among those transferred to Correctional Community Facilities, better fencing and other upgrades are required, Beard said.
But how soon the jails in Coalinga and Delano will reopen depends in part on rulings by the three-judge federal court on the state's extension request, he said.
If the request is granted, reopenings would happen faster.
But if rejected, the department's focus will be on transferring 5,500 inmates to out-of-state private prisons starting in early October.
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