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California: For-profits closed
Two private prisons officially close

State pulls funding, moves all inmates; officials prepare for lost jobs, revenue
By AMY HILVERS, Californian staff writer
December 31st, 2003

Two of Kern County's private prisons are officially shut down, after the state pulled funding and moved all the inmates. Mesa Verde Community Correctional Facility on Golden State Avenue in Bakersfield, and the McFarland Community Correctional Facility in McFarland were finishing closing down Wednesday after losing state funding. One other private prison in Riverside County was also closed.

Former Gov. Gray Davis wanted to shut down the prisons last year, but the Legislature was against the closures. Davis officials had said that the closures would save $400,000 the first year and $900,000 every year after.

But McFarland's city administrator said the closure of the prison will mean lost jobs and a drop in revenue for the city.

The prison industry is one of the city's largest employers, said Anthony B. Lopez, interim McFarland city administrator.

"That (losing jobs) in itself is a detriment," Lopez said.

The water and sewer service that was provided by the city for prison use is also a major revenue source, Lopez said. The city stands to lose $260,000 a year, he said.

The city plans to negotiate reopening the facility and maybe housing federal inmates at the facility "hopefully in the very near future," Lopez said.

More than 100 full and part-time employees will lose their jobs at Mesa Verde which run by Alternative Programs Inc.,, said Gary White, the company's president.

White said the closures were more to appease the state prison guards' union than to save money for the state. State officials have consistently denied that, saying it was a purely budgetary decision to close the prisons. Officials with the union, officially called the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But the CCPOA has made no secret of its opposition to private prisons. Union officials insist it is due to a belief that prisons should be publicly owned, not run for profit at taxpayers' expense, not anger that they are non-union. The closed McFarland prison was operated by the former Wackenhut Corrections Corp., and now the GEO Group Inc. The company runs two other prisons in McFarland that will remain open. The closed prisons housed more than 500 inmates combined. Displaced inmates have been moved to various locations across the state, said California Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Heimrich said.

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