Over the Hill

Calling for ideas on the youth prison

Paso Robles City Councilmember Fred Strong sent an email to several people last Saturday about the vacant youth prison in Paso Robles. He suggested the state sell it to the city for $1.

He sent that email after state officials indicated they may abandon their plan to turn the youth prison into an adult prison that could house up to 1,000 inmates. As I reported last Friday, the governor’s proposed 2012-13 budget calls for canceling the launch of that project.

Shortly after the youth prison was closed in 2008, it was also chosen as the location for a planned re-entry prison able to house 500. Adult inmates nearing their release date would be prepared there to re-enter society. Several re-entry prisons are planned around the state, but the governor’s proposed budget allots them nothing.

State prison officials think we may not need new prisons because our prison population is decreasing. California is reducing its prison population because federal courts ordered it to correct overcrowding and unhealthful conditions.

Since Oct. 1, adults who get convicted of lower-level, nonviolent, nonsexual crimes are no longer sentenced to state prisons. They serve their sentences in county jails. That new procedure has reduced the prison population. If the reduction continues, new prisons may very well be unnecessary.

Council member Strong emailed his suggestions to city officials, local state legislators and news people. He suggested using part of the vacant youth prison as a branch county jail. Extra jail space may be needed for the low-level felony offenders who no longer go to state prisons.

He also suggested leasing the former youth prison’s fire camp to Cal Fire for $1. And he proposed receiving other suggestions at community meetings around the county.

Two other people called me Friday and Saturday with suggested uses for the former youth prison. A doctor from San Luis Obispo suggested the state use it to house geriatric prisoners. He had worked in prisons in the past and noticed old prisoners are a problem because of their illnesses and waning strength. He also said younger prisoners pick on them.

A Paso Robles man reminded me that the boys school, as it was then known, closed once before, from 1972 to 1974. He and a Paso Robles school board member visited it then to see if it could fill the need for a new high school. That was before the present high school was built on Niblick Road.

He said the vacant youth prison might still have some educational uses.

What are your suggestions?

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.