A building boom behind the walls of Corcoran state prison is putting the state on the right side of a federal receiver and boosting the local economy.
At the prison, which holds about 3,570 inmates, work has begun on new health clinics to comply with a 2002 settlement in federal court requiring a higher level of medical care for inmates at all state prisons.
As a result, construction projects are occurring at 31 of the 34 state prisons.
Statewide, $3 billion has been spent on prison health care clinics, dental clinics and mental health facilities in the past five years, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.
Besides health clinics under construction at Corcoran state prison, facilities are going up or have gone up already at other central San Joaquin Valley prisons, including Avenal, Pleasant Valley, Chowchilla and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran.
At Corcoran state prison, five prison yards – areas where inmates live, eat, take classes, worship, work and exercise – are the site of construction projects involving health clinics, medical labs, specialty and emergency care spaces and medicine storage and distribution facilities.
It’s really updating the facility.
Capt. Art Martinez, Corcoran state prison
“Our old clinical space did not have enough space for treatment, and it didn’t allow for the level of confidentiality called for in HIPAA,” said corrections spokesman Bill Sessa, referring to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The cost of the medical facilities projects at Corcoran is $24.5 million. They are slated for completion in mid-2017.
In all, there are 14 construction projects at Corcoran in various stages of completion or planning.
Besides the medical facilities, the projects include an upgrade in the call system for nursing stations, electronics and electrical repairs, replacement of housing unit roofs and repair of a wastewater pond liner.
Last year, dental clinics at Corcoran were renovated at a cost of $1.2 million, and the first phase of replacing the main electrical transformer was completed at a cost of $4.2 million.
We have seen a slight increase in sales tax and in hotel taxes.
Kindon Meik, Corcoran city manager
The construction of clinics at state prisons is the result of a class action lawsuit filed by the Prison Law Office in Berkeley.
The case of Plata vs. Davis settled in 2002 (two other lawsuits involving dental and mental health care were also filed), but four years later a federal court put prison health care under the control of a receiver.
The receiver recommended the state build new clinics to comply with the settlement.
The investment in medical facilities is required for the state to regain control of them, said Alison Hardy, an attorney at the Prison Law Office.
So far, three prisons have sufficiently upgraded their medical care to end receivership: Folsom, Centinela and the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad.
“Some of the projects were absolutely vital,” she said. “Will they solve the health care problem? Facilities alone are not the answer.”
Health care requires physicians, nurses and other resources, she said.
In 2009, a federal three-judge panel said overcrowding was a factor in poor prison health care and ordered the state to reduce prison populations.
“We didn’t have the space for the level of care the lawsuits were calling for,” Sessa said, but now there’s room for new facilities.
Some of the construction money is entering the local economy and trickling into Corcoran city coffers, said City Manager Kindon Meik.
Facilities alone are not the answer.
Alison Hardy, Prison Law Office
“We have seen a slight increase in sales tax and in hotel taxes,” he said. But, Meik said, it may take another quarter or two to assess the full benefit of the spending.
The state tries to put money in the local economy as a matter of policy, Sessa said.
“All of our construction contracts include goals for the percentage of the construction workforce that comes from the local community and a percentage of goods and services that are purchased from local communities,” he said. “It’s to ensure when there are jobs created, it benefits the local economy.”
Most of the work is by private contractors, but inmates also work on the projects. They get paid 75 to 95 cents per hour. All are participating in a vocational training program to earn a certificate that can get them an apprenticeship on release.
The construction projects will allow Corcoran prison, which opened in 1988, to stay functional for many years, said Capt. Luis Martinez.
“It’s really updating the facility,” he said.
All of our construction contracts include goals for the percentage of the construction workforce that comes from the local community.
Bill Sessa, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Of the state’s 34 prisons, half were built between 1852 and 1965 and the rest in the 1980s and 1990s.
Major projects under the state’s prison health care projects initiative include the $900 million California Health Care Facility in Stockton, which opened two years ago and provides long-term care to inmates with acute health care and mental health problems.
Construction projects at state prisons in the central San Joaquin Valley include:
▪ At Avenal, a new dental clinic was built for $1.3 million and a health clinic was remodeled for $575,000.
Other construction projects include repairs to a co-generation plant for $727,000.
Major projects planned include roof replacements for $1.7 million and additional co-generation plant work for about $9.5 million.
▪ At the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, work begin last year on a new health clinic and pharmacy that will finish next year.
The cost is $14.2 million and includes a remodel of a building that houses general population inmates and space for staff.
▪ At Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, construction began two years ago on a new health care facility costing $6.8 million that will finish next year.
▪ At Pleasant Valley State Prison, construction on a $23 million health clinic began in April and should finish in two years.
▪ At the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran, construction began last year on a $20 million health care facility and will finish next year.
Corcoran State Prison
Inmates: The prison once held 6,000 inmates but today holds 3,570 because the state has reduced prison populations.
Staff: The institution employs 2,300.
Source: Corcoran State Prison