The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s proposal to construct a 48,000-square-foot 50-bed psychiatric hospital on the grounds Chino Prison has provoked a reaction from Chino city officials that has provided the public with a window on just how vulnerable the community is as a consequence of the 77-year-old institution’s presence in the Chino Valley.
Last month, Chino City Manager Matthew Ballantyne wrote a letter to Robert Sleppy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Facility Planning, Construction and Management. While Ballantyne stopped short of demanding that the Department of Corrections abandon its plans to locate the mental health crisis treatment center that would cater to scores of mentally ill prisoners dispatched to it from throughout California’s penal system locally, he nevertheless outlined in vivid detail the extent of the deterioration of the California Institution for Men at Chino, both structural and functional. These shortcomings raise significant questions as to the danger posed to the population both inside and outside the prison, regardless of whether the psychiatric hospital project proceeds or not.
A central tenet in Ballantyne’s letter related to the inadequate nature of the prison’s infrastructure and security measures, which have been exacerbated by age, neglect and the suspension of crucial maintenance.
A proposal was put forth by the state a decade ago to locate at the California Institution for Men at Chino a medical and psychiatric services hospital that was 42 times the size of the current prospect for expansion. That came to naught when the degree to which that facility would have outrun the available infrastructure and support network at the prison was demonstrated through an audit undertaken at that time. Ballantyne said the prison is in worse relative condition now than it was then. “Ten years ago, the city reviewed and outlined a number of concerns regarding a much larger 2,100 bed healthcare facility that was proposed at CIM [the California Institution for Men at Chino], and a number of those concerns apply to the new project,” Ballantyne wrote. “As we have said in the past, CIM continues to be overcrowded and in poor physical condition, which raises safety issues for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation staff, inmates, and community residents. The infrastructure that serves CIM is also in very poor condition because of either capacity issues or deferred maintenance, which makes the city question whether the proposed project can be adequately served on this site.”
Ballantyne pointed out that in 2008, the California Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit which determined that the prison suffered from an ineffective water treatment system, failing plumbing, dilapidated housing units, leaking roofs, and hazardous materials in need of removal. The audit noted that though the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the state legislature were aware of the institution’s unacceptable state of disrepair, no more than an average of $4 million per year for maintenance and special repairs at the prison, an amount inadequate to the task at hand, had been allocated to the Chino Institution for Men. “‘An outside consultant hired by the department estimates that seven times that amount, $28 million annually, is needed to maintain CIM in its present ‘poor’ condition, neither improving it nor allowing it to degrade further,'” Ballantyne referenced as/quoted one of the ten-year-old audit’s findings. “That audit reported that the same consultant had recommended that if funding adequate to reverse the prison’s decline was not appropriated for that purpose ‘CIM’s condition will reach a level of degradation by 2014 that independent facilities management experts throughout the industry would recommend demolishing and replacing the entire institution.’”
Ballantyne thus implied that the prison four years ago had declined to a state wherein the safety and welfare of the prison’s inhabitants as well as the residents living within proximity to it are at risk. “The City of Chino urges the state to review the 2008 audit from the [California] Inspector General’s Office and determine what significant changes have been made from 2008 to 2018,” Ballantyne’s letter states.
According to a published report, since 2007 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has spent $52 million at CIM to refurbish medical, dental and mental health facilities along with $7 million in security and living condition improvements, including new cell doors and refurbishing of the prison’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems.
Despite those expenditures, the danger to the Chino Valley community is manifest, Ballantyne stated. “In January of this year, the Chino Police Department assisted CIM with an inmate that had escaped from the Level I facility,” Ballantyne wrote. “The inmate scaled a perimeter fence and was ultimately able to flee the property through a drainage culvert where he contacted an employee at a nearby business to steal his car. A dangerous highspeed pursuit ensued where the inmate was able to avoid apprehension. He was located the next day, 90 miles away in Encinitas.”
According to Ballantyne, “In the aftermath of the escape, city staff conducted tours of the facility and saw firsthand the state of neglect of the prison. There were security features not properly working at the time that could have prevented the inmate from escaping. There are outbuildings, light poles and other infrastructure throughout CIM that are unusable, however they cannot be demolished or removed because of the environmental regulations. These light poles are along a perimeter fence, in the area where an inmate has already escaped, and could be used to assist an inmate in scaling a fence to escape. The abandoned outbuildings throughout the secured area of the facility provide an area for inmates to hide and avoid correctional officers. This occurred in March of 2018, where an inmate was hiding for several hours next to an abandoned building which activated a large-scale response with personnel from both CIM and the Chino Police Department. There is no current plan to add an electrified fence around the proposed mental health facility. However, the state will be sending inmates to the facility that range in Level I classification to the maximum level being a Level IV. The proposed mental health facility is planned to be built within a Level I area of the prison which does not meet the standards of housing maximum security inmates. The mental health facility is anticipated to treat approximately 1,800 inmates each year. This means these 1,800 inmates will be transported through the city, to and from the facility. This adds an increase in danger to the community when inmates are taken out of a facility and driven through a community.”
Ballantyne questioned whether the already overcrowded prison could safely handle the addition of further inmates taking up residence there, even on a temporary basis.
In addition to the dramatic prospect of escapes of inmates because of the facility’s dilapidated state, Ballantyne in the letter raised more prosaic objections relating to the glare of the new facility’s nighttime lighting on nearby residential areas, the incompatibility of the prison with its suroundings if its footprint is expanded into a formally rural but now increasingly urban setting, traffic impacts, strain on regional utilities, infrastructure and service systems, increased demands on the police department that will accompany the inmate increase, as well as potential demands upon the Chino Valley Fire Protection District for added service.