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How Many Prisons are in California?

California has one of the largest prison systems in the United States. As of September 2023, there are around 35 state prisons in California. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) operates all the adult state prisons and juvenile facilities in California.

In addition to the state prisons, there are many federal, county, city, and private prisons located in California. So the total number of prisons in California is much higher when these facilities are counted.

This article provides an overview of the prison system in California, including:

  • The number of state and federal prisons
  • The location and security levels of state prisons
  • The population statistics of California prisons
  • A timeline of notable events related to prisons in California
  • Frequently asked questions about prisons in California

State Prisons in California

There are currently 35 state prisons operated by the CDCR across California. Here is a list of all the state prisons and their location:

Level I Facilities

Level I facilities have the lowest level of security in the California state prison system. They house prisoners with the lowest risk levels and shortest sentences.

  • Calipatria State Prison (Imperial County)
  • Centinela State Prison (Imperial County)
  • California Correctional Center (Lassen County)
  • California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LA County)
  • Folsom State Prison (Sacramento County)
  • California Men’s Colony (San Luis Obispo County)

Level II Facilities

Level II facilities have minor perimeter security and house prisoners with relatively low risk levels.

  • California State Prison, Solano (Solano County)
  • California Correctional Institution (Tehachapi, Kern County)
  • California State Prison, Sacramento (Sacramento County)
  • California State Prison, San Quentin (Marin County)
  • Sierra Conservation Center (Jamestown, Tuolumne County)
  • California State Prison, Mule Creek (Ione, Amador County)
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Level III Facilities

Level III prisons have enhanced perimeter security and more control of prisoner movement within the facility. They house prisoners with higher risk levels.

  • Central California Women’s Facility (Chowchilla, Madera County)
  • California Medical Facility (Vacaville, Solano County)
  • California State Prison, Corcoran (Kings County)
  • Deuel Vocational Institution (Tracy, San Joaquin County)
  • High Desert State Prison (Susanville, Lassen County)
  • California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran, Kings County)
  • California State Prison, Sacramento (Represa, Sacramento County)

Level IV Facilities

Level IV prisons have the highest level of security in California’s prison system. They house prisoners with the highest risk levels and longest sentences.

  • California State Prison, Corcoran (Corcoran, Kings County)
  • Kern Valley State Prison (Delano, Kern County)
  • California Correctional Institution (Tehachapi, Kern County)
  • California State Prison, Los Angeles County (Lancaster, LA County)
  • Pelican Bay State Prison (Crescent City, Del Norte County)
  • California State Prison, Corcoran (Corcoran, Kings County)
  • California State Prison, Sacramento (Folsom, Sacramento County)
  • Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad, Monterey County)
  • California Correctional Institution (Tehachapi, Kern County)

Federal Prisons in California

In addition to the state prisons, there are 9 federal prisons located in California as of September 2023. They are operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP):

  • Federal Correctional Institution, Herlong
  • Federal Correctional Institution, Mendota
  • Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin
  • United States Penitentiary, Atwater
  • United States Penitentiary, Lompoc
  • United States Penitentiary, Victorville
  • Federal Correctional Complex, Lompoc
  • Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island
  • Metropolitan Detention Center, Los Angeles

These federal prisons house inmates convicted of federal crimes from all over the country, not just California.

California Prison Population Statistics

As of September 2023, the total prison population in California state prisons is around 117,000. This includes:

  • 96,000 prisoners in state facilities
  • 21,000 prisoners in contracted out-of-state and in-state facilities

Some key facts about the prison population in California:

  • Around 90% of prisoners are male.
  • Over 50% of prisoners are serving time for a violent offense.
  • The average reading level of inmates is 7th grade.
  • About 70% of inmates lack a high school diploma or GED.
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The incarceration rate in California is around 300 per 100,000 residents as per 2022 statistics. This makes California’s incarceration rate lower than the national average.

California prisons were severely overcrowded for decades, exceeding 200% capacity at their peak. But in recent years, the prison population has declined due to various measures.

Timeline of Notable Events Related to California Prisons

California’s prison system has undergone many changes and reforms over the past decades. Here is a timeline of some notable events:

1852San Quentin Prison, California’s first state prison, opens.
1952Soledad Prison opens, starting the era of large prison expansion in California.
1976California reforms its indeterminate sentencing laws and introduces determinate sentencing.
2006A federal court orders California to reduce prison overcrowding after finding constitutional violations.
2011California starts implementing its Public Safety Realignment policy to reduce overcrowding. Lower-level felons are housed in county jails instead of state prisons.
2014California voters pass Proposition 47 reducing penalties for some nonviolent crimes like drug possession and theft.
2016Voters pass Proposition 57, allowing earlier parole for nonviolent offenders.
2022California closes two state prisons (Deuel Vocational Institution and California Correctional Center) due to declining populations.

These reforms and policy changes have steadily reduced California’s prison population in the last decade. But even with the declining numbers, its prison system remains one of the largest in the Western world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about prisons in California:

How many jails are in California?

There are around 500 local and county jails across California managed by city police or county sheriff’s departments. The largest county jail systems are in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and San Bernardino counties.

Unlike state prisons, most inmates in California’s county jails are serving shorter sentences or awaiting trials for relatively lower-level offenses. The average daily jail population in California is around 70,000.

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What is the largest prison in California?

The largest prison in the California state system is the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, Kings County. It houses over 6,300 inmates and has about 1,300 employees.

The Federal Correctional Complex in Lompoc is the largest federal prison in California, with over 2,600 inmates.

What is the oldest prison in California?

San Quentin State Prison, located in Marin County near San Francisco, is the oldest prison in California. It opened in 1852 and is still operational today.

Some other old prisons in California include Folsom State Prison (opened in 1880) and the California Institution for Men in Chino (opened in 1941).

What is Pelican Bay State Prison known for?

Pelican Bay State Prison, located near the Oregon border in Crescent City, is known for housing some of California’s most serious criminal offenders.

It has a Security Housing Unit (SHU) where inmates are held in solitary confinement for 22.5 hours a day. Pelican Bay’s extreme isolation practices have been controversial and criticized by prisoner advocacy groups.

How much do prisoners in California earn?

Prisoners at California state prisons can earn small wages ranging from $12 to $56 per month for certain jobs like kitchen work, maintenance, and firefighting.

Higher pay of $2 to $5 per hour is offered for skilled labor through the Prison Industry Authority. However, over 80% of California prisoners do not participate in any prison job programs.

Can prisoners in California earn college degrees?

Yes, prisoners in California are able to earn various degrees and certificates through college programs offered at prisons.

Face-to-face college programs are available at 42 state prisons through partnerships with community colleges. Some prisons also offer correspondence courses allowing inmates to earn degrees by mail.


California has one of the most extensive prison systems in the country with approximately 35 state prisons, 9 federal prisons, and 500 local jails across the state. The total incarcerated population is around 190,000.

While California’s prisons were infamously overcrowded in the past, various policy changes and reforms have helped reduce the prison population in the last decade. But penologists continue to debate the optimal size and purpose of prisons for balancing public safety, cost, and human rights.

California also continues to grapple with issues like solitary confinement conditions, prison healthcare, rehabilitation programs, and preparing inmates for successful reentry into society. The sheer scale of the prison system here means that corrections policies in California often influence national conversations around criminal justice reform.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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