City of Chino motion to have a say on proposed changes and upgrades for prison facility

Posted on July 14, 2010

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A legal move by the state Department of Corrections to speed up the conversion of the Stark prison into an adult prison and an inmate mental health center has provoked a counter maneuver from city attorneys.  Attorneys for the city of Chino have filed a motion against a corrections plan to substantially shorten the environmental review process that would prevent public hearings and prevent the city from weighing in on environmental concerns. After being prompted by a federal court order in June to speed up the conversion work at the former Heman G. Stark facility by a year, the state filed a recommendation that proposes construction be completed in 2013, one year earlier than originally planned. The accelerated schedule would eliminate the 45-day public review time period, eliminate a 10-day time frame for providing responses to public comments, and eliminate the 30-day period in which the city, or any other party, could file litigation, according to Chino spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden.

“Corrections in turn came back to the judge with an expedited plan that more or less eliminates the need for the (environmental review) document and town hall (public review) meetings,” said Chino Mayor Dennis Yates.

Chino’s motion, filed Friday, would allow city representatives to comment on the recently proposed accelerated plan at Stark. The motion is set to be heard by a federal district judge on Aug. 9. Opposition to the city’s motion is due on July 26, which would allow the city the opportunity to reply before the scheduled hearing.  Local officials are concerned that the plan to shorten the lengthy environmental review process could deprive them and residents the chance to air public safety and environmental concerns. The city’s motion would allow the city to participate as an active party in a federal case that has resulted in the expansion of mental health facility construction throughout the state, Van Der Linden said.  The Stark conversion plan is part of corrections’ compliance with a federal Ninth Circuit appellate court ruling ordering state prison officials to reduce overcrowding and provide more mental health and medical services to inmates.

Bob Sleppy, deputy director of the Environmental Service Branch for Corrections, said that despite the new proposal, the state still would collect local public comment on the conversion prior to release of an environmental impact review document. “The court ordered us to identify anything that would allow us to gain some time and that’s what we did,” Sleppy said. “We identified those periods to substantially reduce the time frame, but we still intend to do a legal environmental review document with substantial front-end involvement of the community, so we know what their concerns are.”

Chris Meyers, senior chief for facility planning and construction management for the Department of Corrections, said the Stark conversion will turn the former youth prison into an adult prison for reception center inmates and inmates in need of mental health services.  Existing prison buildings at Stark will be converted into a reception center for about 1,800 adult inmates and an additional 384 beds for permanent work crew inmates. Construction will also bring 575 more beds to a new four-building mental health facility. Two more new buildings planned include a 60-bed correctional treatment center for the temporary treatment of inmates in need of medical and mental health care, and a central health services building for all of the inmates, Meyers said. State prison officials estimate the total projected budget for the Stark conversion to an adult facility is about $521 million, though corrections is awaiting formal authorization of the project’s scope, budget and schedule by the state Budget Works Board after the plan is reviewed by the Department of Finance and considered by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

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Posted in: The Anti News