May 12, 2015 / 9:16 PM / 5 years ago

Close dilapidated, rodent-infested prison, California lawmaker says

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California should shut down a state prison in Riverside County that is dilapidated, infested with vermin and expensive to operate, the chairwoman of the state Senate’s public safety panel said on Tuesday.

The California Rehabilitation Center at Norco houses 2,400 inmates in unsafe conditions that include standing pools of water, rodents and cockroaches, and water that does not come out of the pipes at temperatures deemed safe for food preparation, according to Democratic state Senator Loni Hancock.

“CRC is dilapidated and unsafe,” Hancock wrote in a letter to Jeffrey Beard, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s secretary for corrections and rehabilitation. “Many of the buildings are nearly a century old.”

The Southern California facility opened in 1928 as a lakeside resort, was used as a naval hospital during World War Two and eventually became a narcotics center that also housed felons.

In 2012, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which runs California’s prisons, said it would close the facility by 2016. During budget negotiations that year, the legislature approved $810 million in expenditures to build housing facilities for inmates at a different location on the understanding that Norco would be closed, Hancock said.

But a year later, prison administrators said they planned to keep the facility open for an undetermined length of time to comply with an order from a federal court to ease crowding in California’s prisons.

As the legislature began to consider budget priorities this year, administrators said they had suspended the closure, Hancock said, prompting her concern.

“We have known for years that this prison is in terrible shape,” Hancock said in an interview.

A recent report from the state department of public health revealed “shocking” conditions at the prison, Hancock said, including infestations of rats and cockroaches, and wastewater that does not drain. Parts of the prison also lack hot water, she said.

Brown’s administration did not immediately respond to Hancock’s letter.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney

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