A SusanvilleStuff Feature
by Jeremy Couso
It was a brand new idea at the time – a conservation center where inmates in the state prison system could learn new vocations and do productive work at both the main prison site and in a series of smaller camps. At the dedication of the California Correctional Center in August of 1963 Walter Dunbar, head of the Department of Corrections said, “There is no place like the Susanville center, nor is there any facility which is dedicated to the same ultimate achievements.”
It was an age old problem, that of finding occupation for prisoners who had been sentenced to pay for their law violations. The new center not only found productive work inside the walls of the prison, but trained inmates in skills they could use on the outside after they were released.
California Governor Edmund G. Brown, beginning in 1958, continuously pushed the concept of a correctional center with a series of smaller camps where inmates could learn marketable skills.
In his August 1963 dedicatory address on the grounds at CCC, Governor Brown called the new center a ‘logical and impressive’ step forward in correctional practice.
“Today, I have seen money spent on dormitories instead of cells, on glass instead of bars, on counseling rooms instead of gun towers,” said Governor Brown, addressing the crowded ceremony, “Today I have seen a correctional center which I am confident will provide hope and progress for the thousands who will be sent here.”
In the beginning trainees in the Susanville center not only received vocational and academic instruction, physical conditioning and guidance, but were also be taught how to battle forest fires, how to use forestry tools, how to replant burned-over areas, how to clear streams and how to control insect infection.
The inmates at the center and its auxiliary camps where also used as a manpower pool for major disasters and emergency operations in Lassen County.
The center, first of four planned for opening in the initial push, was opened at a cost of about $10.2 million, and housed 1,200 inmates.
Save our Center
In 1973 the Corrections Department announced that the center would be closed because of a sharp decline in the number of state prisoners suitable for minimum security prisons. At the time the Correctional Center employed about 250 and had an annual budget of $3.4 million. Community leaders said the shutdown would mean the loss of about 1,000 of Susanville’s 6,600 residents.
A ‘Save our Center’ drive was begun by a host of local businesses who knew just what kind of an impact it would have if suddenly the prison was vacant.
Susanville Mayor Ivor Lanigar told state officials that closure of the center would halt all plans for new public works in the county because of the loss to the community’s tax base. Lanigar said the local economy would go back to relying on lumbering, ranching and farming as it did before the center opened.
Cec and Dayne Webb, owners of radio station KSUE in 1973, were instrumental in the ‘Save our Center’ campaign, travelling back and forth to Sacramento to speak for the community.
Over the last 50 years the Correctional Center has provided, through the conservation camp program, services that amount to many millions of dollars in value to the public. Work projects associated with conservation camps support municipal, county, state and federal government agencies, including local schools, parks, cemeteries and public recreation areas.
The secondary mission of CCC, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is to provide meaningful work, training and education programs for inmates who do not meet the criteria for assignment to a conservation camp. These alternative assignments include academic and vocational trade programs, facility maintenance jobs, food service positions and other facility support assignments.
On Wednesday local dignitaries, state officials and California Correctional Center staff, both past and present, celebrated the prison’s first half-century with a party on the grounds.
The anniversary ceremony, presided over by CCC Chief Deputy Warden Matt Mullin, was a chance for the institution to show off some of its many achievements, and its close ties to the community.
Lassen County Supervisor Jim Chapman related the history of CCC – from its inception to the political battles undertaken to keep the prison here in the 1970’s. Chapman singled out Assemblywoman Pauline Davis for going toe-to-toe with Governor Ronald Reagan to get funding allocated for the prison. A move which would save the prison and keep it open for the foreseeable future.
Robert Gower, current Warden at CCC, took time to recognize notable attendees from the institution’s past. Gower is the 12th Warden at the prison and many former Wardens were on hand to help celebrate CCC’s first 50 years.