Another local shuttered community correctional facility may reopen to help deal with California's inmate overpopulation problem.
This one's in Bakersfield.
The city's Board of Zoning Adjustment will consider at a special meeting Tuesday an application from multinational prison operator The GEO Group to reopen a private, minimum-security, 400-bed detention facility at 425 Golden State Ave., immediately northeast of downtown.
If approved for a conditional use permit, GEO would remodel and re-landscape the former Mesa Verde Community Correctional Facility to house an average of 400 minimum-security prisoners per year, exactly what the prison was approved for when it closed in 2009.
The reopening could generate as many as 100 jobs, but whom GEO would hire to staff the prison, where its inmates would come from, and the price of the reopening remain unknown.
Citing the positive effect those jobs would have on a city still recovering from last decade's recession, and the urgent need for more prison space, staff is recommending approval of the project.
Currently, the state has a federal mandate to reduce its prison population. Also known as realignment, the shifting of incarceration and supervision of non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenders from the state to counties has resulted in some early release of criminals, and is blamed for a spike some of last year's crime rates.
"Given what's going on in Shafter and potentially in Taft and these other CCFs, given realignments at the state level and other capacity issues, they saw potentially an opportunity," said Chris Huot, assistant to City Manager Alan Tandy, referring to discussions about reopening facilities in those two cities.
And in a deal reached last month, the state will lease prison space from Corrections Corporation of America to house more than 2,000 inmates in California City.
Tuesday's special meeting is necessary, Huot said, because the BZA only meets once a month and GEO, which wasn't ready to proceed at its Nov. 12 meeting, apparently is anxious to negotiate a contract for inmates either with the county of Kern, state of California or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Representatives of The GEO Group, which owns or manages 96 correctional facilities worldwide, did not respond to requests for comment.
Attorney Alicen Wong, senior counsel at Gresham Savage in San Bernardino, which is representing GEO in this matter, declined to comment.
Kern County Undersheriff RoseMary Wahl said the county has no plans to contract with The GEO Group.
"I think it's a contract that they're going to enter into with the state," Wahl said.
Dana Simas, an information officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said she was unaware of any talks between the CDC and GEO to house state inmates in Bakersfield.
"We at this point are still over our capacity, so basically anything except out-of-state we can do," Simas said, meaning that the state can't negotiate any new contracts to send inmates out-of-state. "I'm not aware of anything at Mesa Verde."
An ICE spokeswoman said the agency "has no plans to house detainees" at the Mesa Verde CCF.
Area business owners said Monday that they were OK with the CCF reopening.
"These guys are behind bars. The ones I gotta worry about are the ones on the street. Twice, they've stolen the same bushes," said Miguel Gonzalez of Johnstone Supply, a heating and air conditioning distributor southeast of the CCF.
"We don't have anything against it. That's 100 jobs," said Jim Levasseur, co-owner of RCCI, a construction firm across Golden State Avenue from Mesa Verde. "If they get out, they're going to want to go the furthest distance away."
Bakersfield police Sgt. Joe Grubbs said he was unaware of any past escapes or lockdowns at Mesa Verde, but that if it reopens, his department will renew a plan to handle any such incidents.