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  • mcprison mcprison Jan 11, 2002 9:22 PM Flag

    WHC prison to close in CA

    Cuts stymie prisons, welfare
    By VIC POLLARD, Californian Sacramento Bureau
    Thursday January 10, 2002, 10:26:08 PM

    In Kern County, the budget cuts proposed Thursday by Gov. Gray Davis would fall hardest on welfare recipients, Kern Medical Center and two small private prisons.

    But most local officials, remembering the recession of the early 1990s when the state balanced its budget by taking billions of dollars in property tax revenues from cities and counties, were relieved that the impact was not more drastic.

    Facing a budget deficit of at least $12 billion over the next 18 months, Davis issued a $100 billion budget proposal for the coming fiscal year Thursday that would close most of the gap with borrowing, fund shifting and other accounting maneuvers.

    "Given the size of the state budget deficit, we're pleased that we are not being asked to shoulder a huge burden like we were 10 years ago," said Alan Krauter, the county's legislative analyst.

    State Sen. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said he was pleased that the governor wants to expand the Healthy Families medical care program for poor children and not cut funding for law enforcement, including the war on methamphetamine in the Central Valley.

    But both Costa and Republican Sen. Charles Poochigian of Fresno voiced disappointment that the budget does not include some $40 million being sought by rural school districts to bring their state funding closer to the level of urban schools.

    Poochigian also criticized the governor for boasting about his refusal to propose tax increases in the budget for next year when California consumers were hit with a $1.2 billion increase in sales taxes Jan. 1.

    On the local level, a Bakersfield company is being asked to shoulder a relatively big burden.

    That company is Alternative Programs Inc., which operates the Mesa Verde Community Correctional Facility. It is one of five such contract prisons that the California Department of Corrections plans to close when their contracts expire June 30 to save $5.1 million.

    Another is the McFarland Community Correctional Facility.

    The McFarland facility is operated by the nationwide Wackehnut correctional firm, but Mesa Verde is API's only venture so far.

    The firm's president, Edwin D. Sigrest was bitterly disappointed at the action, even though he knew it might be coming.

    He blamed it on opposition to non-union community correctional facilities from the union that represents state prison guards.

    "The Correctional Peace Officers Association doesn't like us because we can do this job as well as they can, and do it for less money," Sigrest said. "And they have contributed a lot of money to the governor's campaign."

    Russell Heimrich, communications director for the Department of Corrections, denied that. "That's absolutely not true," Heimrich said. "We're doing this because we, like other departments, have to trim our budget."

    Mesa Verde has about 340 low-security inmates and employs about 100 people, Sigrest said. The McFarland facility has some 220 inmates and 54 employees.

    Wackenhut officials, who also operate two other community correctional facilities in McFarland, could not be reached for comment.

    Heimrich said the cuts would leave the state with 11 of the privately run facilities, several of them in Kern County.

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