Taft ready to work out new contract for state prisoners

Taft ready to work out new contract for state prisoners
TAFT, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — In spite of its ongoing legal battle, the Taft City Council voted unanimously to work with the state again to put prisoners in the city's Community Correctional Facility.

The state pulled out inmates two years ago, and the city's still suing over that, but Taft officials hope a new contract will have more assurances and a lot of benefits for the city and citizens.

Mayor Paul Linder said the City Council voted Thursday night to move forward.

"I signed the contract last night, it's being shipped to the state for their signatures," he told Eyewitness News. Now, they wait to see if the plan gets the required signatures from officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Taft had a contract with CDCR to house their inmates for 20 years, but that ended two years ago thanks to so-called prison realignment. Linder admitted getting back into business with CDCR is something like remarrying your ex.

"It's kind of like marrying your divorced spouse," he said. "But we feel good about the contract. The state has given us a very good, comprehensive contract."

Linder sees a number of benefits, starting with jobs.

"We'll be able to put between 60 and 70 people either back to work or with new jobs within the community," the mayor says.

Eyewitness News talked to several business owners in Taft, they like the sound of more local jobs. One said that would be a good thing. Another agreed, but hopes any new jobs will go to local residents.

The mayor said the contract now calls for Taft providing 512 beds, but they could increase that to 600 beds fairly quickly. The city can make renovations to add the beds, and they're just waiting to be certified for the greater amount.

That will add more revenue to the city.

"We can increase the amount of inmate population with very little cost," Linder said. "We're already heating and cooling the building. We have to add some more staff, obviously."

The contract would pay the city $60 a day per inmate. At the 512 bed level, Linder said the state would pay Taft $55 million over four and a half years.

"We'd love to see some extra funds go to services for our citizens," the mayor said. "But, we figure the first two years we'll get back to where we need to be. Square one."

Taft officials said they've been left in a hole because they had to cover shut-down costs when the state pulled inmates out of their CCF.

That happened two years ago under so-called prison realignment. At that time, the state started to put more inmates into county jail systems and stopped using CCFs. Taft has sued to get back the closure costs they ended up with.

"We'll have our day in court, hopefully next month, and we'll get that settled," Linder said. "The state hasn't lived up to that agreement, and we're hopeful that the local judge will see it our way, and we'll benefit from that also."

Under the new contract, Taft has to make certain renovations to the facility. The mayor said that includes a secondary fence so the site can take "medium security" prisoners. It would be operated as a "modified CCF." Linder said a local contractor is already lined up to do that work, if the contract's signed by the state.

Linder admitted there's some concern about working with the state again.

"There's an element of trust," he said. "There's lot of things we're worried about, but none of them are more important than getting people back to work and generating revenue."

Linder said the city hopes to hear back from CDCR by the end of next week, and hopes they could have the CCF back up and running again in 90 days.