CHINO - Recent anger from local officials over the possibility that the number of beds at the California Institution for Men could be increased appears to be a bit premature.

While the Chino prison could add more beds in the near future, prisons in San Diego and Ione are more likely candidates, a state prisons spokesman said.

As part of ongoing efforts to improve conditions at California's prisons and to reduce costs, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently said it plans to build a new Level II facility at five possible locations in the state, one of them being CIM.

Chino Mayor Dennis Yates and Chino Hills Mayor Peter Rogers expressed strong objection to the construction of new facilities at the Chino prison.

Prison officials responded by saying more likely sites are a 792-bed Level II expansion at R.J. Donovan Prison in San Diego and a 1,584-bed Level II expansion at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, southeast of Sacramento.

"I hate to say something and then something unexpectedly comes up in the environmental impact report, so, right now, we're strongly looking at those two sites, but we have to look at all the sites equally," said Dana Simas, spokeswoman for the state state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"I really can't say one way or the other how positive I am, but those are the ones we've put a lot of energy in, and we hope it goes to the plan that we've set out already.


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The department will consider sites in Sacramento, Folsom, Solano, Vacaville as well as CIM if San Diego and Ione prisons do not work out.

All of the prisons house Level II inmates.

These inmates are considered lower level offenders who have committed white collar or financial crimes or were involved in drugs or property offenses, Simas said.

A Level II facility primarily consists of open dormitories with a secure perimeter possibly patrolled by armed guards, according to the corrections department.

The expansion would not add a different population of inmates.

The changes are part of ongoing efforts to improve conditions at California's prisons and to reduce cost.

But even the slight possibility of an expansion at CIM is not being taken lightly by locals.

At a Chino City Council meeting earlier this month, Yates said he planned to fight prison officials if there was an expansion of CIM.

"Adding to the current prison population would have significant social and economic effects on the community as this proposed facility would be located in proximity to current and future residents, as well as Chaffey Community College and Ayala Park, the city's largest park and sports facility," Yates said.

Chino Hills Mayor Peter Rogers said he also had concerns.

"They first need to deal with the over-capacity that currently exists at CIM," he said.

"The correctional facility is well over capacity even with the reductions they've done with prison reductions recently."

CIM was at more than double its design capacity in December 2004. Now, it's at 160 percent of capacity with 4,753 inmates at a a facility designed to hold 2,976 - more than a 35 percent drop according to prison officials.

Prison officials plan to host meetings at 3 and 6 p.m. today at Chaffey College Chino Community Center to review the "Level II Infill Correctional Facilities Project." The public will be allowed to comment as a required provision of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Prison officials will then take public concerns as well as comments and compile them into a "draft environmental impact report" detailing possible impacts to each community if the project is built.

The report should should be completed in the spring.

Simas said they are open to working with local officals on the infill projects and feel there are benefits that go along with the projects.

"The double facility that is 1,500 beds would bring 350 jobs to the area permanently and it also needs to be constructed, so there is subcontracting availability to local business," she said. 

"We feel like this would be a benefit to local agencies, that's why we want to work so closely with them ... we're really engaging the locals on this. We want to hear their comments. We don't want to go somewhere where there is going to be a huge issue if we don't have to."

Jennifer Mallo, owner of The Cario House in Chino Hills, said she is against any expansion, not only from a business standpoint, but also because she lives in Chino. Her fitness facility is south of CIM.

"There is always going to be a possibility of something going wrong, and, even though it hasn't happen, a criminal getting loose," she said.

Simas said officials will do their best to take the concerns into consideration, but, at the end of the day "we have to do this."

"Obviously, we want to have it be in the least contentious way possible because we do want it to benefit the community, and a community that really wants it," she said.

"But at the end of the day, we have to go where this is going to work and hopefully everything goes smoothly and we can go through with our proposed projects."

Senate Bill 1022 has given prison officials the authorization to build new facilities, but, at the same time, mandated them to close the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco in three years, which has been extremely costly to run due to continuous maintenance issues.

canan.tasci@inlandnewspapers.com

909-483-9340

@ChinoValleyNow