Quick response by state shows state is anxious, mayor says

The Taft Community Correctional Facility is officially under contract with the State of California again and could be open within two months.

The 41/2-year, $51 million contract between the City of Taft and the California Department of Corrections is now signed and executed.

The city will now start hiring guards and staff for the facility, Chief of Police Ed Whiting said Wednesday. The city is already advertising for correctional officers, guards and other personnel.

Earlier in the fall, when it appeared the city was going to contract with Los Angeles County for inmates, Whiting said at least half of the former employees indicated they wanted to return to work at the CCF.

The city now has written confirmation that he contract the city council approved last week has been signed and executed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and purchase order numbers have been written for the term of the contract, Mayor Paul Linder said.
The letter with the confirmation was received Tuesday evening, just hours after the city received word that the contract had been accepted in Sacramento.

Linder said the state is under the gun to move inmates out of the state prison system under a court order and that prompted the fast response.

After two years with no inmates in the CCF, events unfolded rapidly last week.

The council called a special meeting on Dec. 4 to approve a tentative agreement. The contract was then sent to the state Friday morning. By Tuesday morning, the city was notified the CDCR had approved the contract on its end, and later a letter was received stating the contract was signed and executed.

“To have it back already approved and a letter back (Tuesday), that means they're anxious,” Linder said.

The contract requires the CCF to be open within 90 days after it is signed.

Linder said the city hopes to have it open earlier, possibly by mid February.

Linder said the city is moving full speed ahead, hiring guards and staff for the facility and its contractor, Black/Hall Construction, is going ahead with construction of additional security fences, an access road and new sally port.

Not only is the facility going to reopen, probably by mid to late February, but Mayor Paul Linder said the the contract with the CDCR may be amended to allow the city to house up to 600 inmates at a time.

In the past, its capacity has been just over 500 inmates.

More inmates means more revenue for the city.

“We've had discussions that our facility could hold up to 600 prisoners,” Linder said. “We would probably do that because we could generate extra revenue with little additional cost.”

Linder said Shafter expanded the capacity of its CCF to hold 640 inmates and Taft may do the same.

Reopening the CCF means that more than 50 jobs are created and the city has another source of general fund revenue.

In the past, CCF inmates provided the city was free labor for many jobs ranging from custodial work, gardening and other tasks. However, the city is now getting inmates requiring a higher level of security.

Whiting said its possible that some may be allowed to work outside the facility.

The city made approximately $700,000 annually from the state under the previous contract, which ended two years ago when AB 109 prison reforms removed inmates from the CCF.

The city was left on the hook for all the closing costs for the CCF, including unemployment benefits for the employees who lost their jobs. That has cost the city well over $1 million so far.

A lawsuit filed by the city against the state is scheduled to go on trial in Bakersfield in January.