For Immediate Release

As The Dixie Wildfire threatens Susanville and the surrounding community, the well-being of incarcerated people is a largely ignored while progress on criminal justice reform is legally stymied

Susanville, CA – Families negatively impacted by the California Correctional Center (CCC) in Susanville are voicing outrage over a Lassen County Superior Court judge’s decision Monday today to continue a restraining order halting Governor Newsom from closing the prison.

They argue that this court decision effectively sets a course that threatens the lives of prisoners in CCC. CCC endangers those imprisoned inside its walls – given the ongoing threatening conditions of prison and the escalated crises of this past year, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The most immediate threat to those in CCC and other nearby sites of incarceration is that the 2nd largest forest fire in the history of California is dangerously close to Susanville. Prisoners’ family members and advocacy organizations across the state are calling for Judge Mark Nareau to immediately end the restraining order against Governor Newsom and CCC’s closure.

Despite evidence and data to the contrary, the City of Susanville filed a lawsuit against Newsom’s plan to close CCC because city officials believe that the prison benefits their local economy. However, as has been shown in Susanville and in prison towns across the U.S., the construction of prisons has had a lasting detrimental impact not only on local economies directly, but on their surrounding communities and environments.

When Governor Newsom announced that CCC would be one of two facilities set to close within this next year, Nissa Mezzles, whose son is incarcerated at CCC, was initially relieved. “I thought, finally, something is going to happen. That place is a disaster. It’s a health risk and it needs to be shut down.” Yet, after the city of Susanville filed for a restraining order to halt CCC’s announced closure a few weeks ago, Nissa was shocked. “They are trying to keep something open that is unhealthy and unsafe because of money.” Her shock escalated to fear a week later when the Dixie Wildfire began to rage.

The Dixie Wildfire looms far too close to  Susanville. Already, people in prison are experiencing extremely poor air quality as a result, while the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) refuses to  publicly release fire safety plans with impacted families. Annual wildfires continue to threaten the lives of incarcerated people – along with pollution, contaminated water, and toxic waste.

“It’s absurd to launch a lawsuit based on a CEQA-based claim when the air quality at CCC is constantly made dangerous by smoke from fires, not to mention airborne communicable diseases such as COVID-19, ” notes Amber-Rose Howard, Executive Director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a statewide coalition dedicated to fighting the impacts of prisons on the residents of California.CEQA refers to the California Environmental Quality Act, which has ironically been used by advocates of criminal legal reform to stop or stall new prisons and jails because of how toxic they can be to the environment. The impacts of environmental disasters place prisoners throughout California in extremely vulnerable positions. The compounding crises of racism, public health and environmental justice unfolding at CCC makes it an ideal candidate for immediate closure.

Today’s ruling marks only the beginning of the fight for the relief for people imprisoned at CCC and other state prisons. Family members and community advocates will continue to demand immediate mitigation to address imprisoned people’s safety from the Dixie Wildfire. CURB  will continue to uplift the demands of these families as part of the recently launched campaign to close at least 10 prisons in the state of California over the next five years.