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Eyewitness News Investigates: Coalinga's Empty Prison

California is under court order to ease prison overcrowding. So why is a prison that can hold almost 600 inmates sitting empty in Central California? CBS47's Zara Arboleda investigates.
Coalinga leaders are scrambling to find inmates to fill the Claremont Custody Center. The 70,000 square foot complex sits on 19 acres, just north of town. A 20-year agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) ended in August of 2011. 100 people lost their jobs and 570 inmates were transferred to other facilities.

In April of last year, city leaders say talks began with the CDCR to enter into a new agreement to house inmates. But in April of this year, they were notified that no deal would take place. Now, leaders say they're out about $1 million and that could impact the general fund.

CBS47's Zara Arboleda obtained e-mails and reports sent between Coalinga officials, the CDCR and prison advocates. It appears to show that discussions were taking place for at least 10 months to send inmates to Claremont. When asked why the CDCR pulled out, a spokesperson issued this statement: "We may or may not enter into contracts based on an infinite number of variables. We don't publicly discuss our exact reasons for deciding not to enter into a contract."

Coalinga City Manager Rene Ramirez says the CDCR notified him that under the AB109 prison realignment bill, the Coalinga beds weren't needed. But a report from June 2014 shows that 32 out of 35 prison facilities in this state are currently over capacity. Ramirez adds, "There's just no good news. They're not willing or ready to house anybody in our facility. Yet the state still has an overpopulation situation both on the men's and women's side."

The city is now in talks with the sheriffs of Los Angeles and Riverside Counties, to see if Southern California inmates can get transferred to the Central Valley.

Meantime, the city is looking into possibly cutting the police and fire department budgets, because of lost fees from the state, and lost taxes and revenue from the 100 jobs lost.
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