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June 28, 2022

Re-entry facility for San Benito inmates put on hold

A state re-entry facility proposed for northeastern Paso
Robles
– which would house inmates from San Benito County – has been
put on hold while plans for a 1,000-inmate medium-security prison
for the same site could be built as soon as summer 2011.
Tonya Strickland |

A state re-entry facility proposed for northeastern Paso Robles – which would house inmates from San Benito County – has been put on hold while plans for a 1,000-inmate medium-security prison for the same site could be built as soon as summer 2011.

The Central Coast Regional Secure Community Reentry Facility – the newest prison model from the state corrections system – is part of a master plan for a trio of prison projects at the former home of the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility off Highway 46 East. That institution, which much of the community knew as a boys school, closed in June 2008.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation withdrew its funding application for the re-entry facility in September because the state boards that authorize funding want to study its design, which requires new construction, more before the department reapplies.

Paso Robles’ re-entry facility would house inmates who last lived in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Benito counties. It gained approval by local agencies in 2008.

By agreeing to one day allow the facility to be built, those counties gained a competitive edge is getting state grants to build new jails, such as a women’s facility in San Luis Obispo County.

Withdrawing the re-entry application for now doesn’t cancel the jail agreements, officials said.

Also in the master plan for the state’s 160-acre parcel is reactivating the existing Los Robles CalFire camp for 100 minimum-security inmates to come from the prison once it opens. They will fight fires and clear brush. The original camp closed with the boys school.

The boys school buildings will be reconfigured for the medium-security prison, called the Estrella Adult Correctional Facility.

The fire camp will expand to 130 inmates once CalFire secures its funding, which is contingent on the state’s 2011-12 budget, according to the state Department of Corrections.

The three master planned projects for the site are encouraged through state legislation to help alleviate prison overcrowding and need approval by two state boards before funding to build them is granted.

State officials are anticipating approval of the Estrella prison after a report analyzing the environmental impacts of bringing all three projects to the site closed for public review in September. It listed various areas of concern including traffic, aesthetics and water use. The report’s approval could come as soon as the end of the month.

The state will help develop highway additions and expansions through developer fees as a fix to higher traffic expected on Highway 46 East, according to the report. The state is also trying to improve the appearance of Estrella along Airport Road and dedicate a habitat restoration on the site to replace the trees removed during construction.

The state also purchased an allocation from the Nacimiento Water Project and won’t use groundwater wells for its projects in the city. Officials will work with the city to pay for the treatment and delivery of the water. Water conservation measures are also in the plan.

Funding for the Estrella prison was approved this summer, officials said, and is authorized for an estimated $85 million for design and construction.

Bids will go out in spring 2011, with construction beginning that summer, officials said.

Estrella would also bring about 600 prison jobs to the area, according to the state, plus an undetermined “but substantial” number of construction jobs, officials said.

State funding was also approved this summer for a Stockton facility with the same premise as Paso Robles’ re-entry project, officials said. It will be the first of its kind in the state. The one in Paso Robles would have been the second.

Stockton’s re-entry facility will be developed in an existing building that once housed a women’s jail.

Once built, Paso Robles’ re-entry facility would operate independently from the prison and camp, focusing on rehabilitating prisoners by providing them with job and life skills during their last year of incarceration – six to 12 months before they are paroled.

The hope is that a program would reduce the state’s rate of recidivism. That rate was about 70 percent in 2008. Officials on Monday didn’t have a current number but said it’s still high.

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