California State Prison, Centinela

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California State Prison, Centinela (CEN)
Seal of the Calirfornia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.png
Aerial View
Location Imperial County, California
Coordinates 32°49′23″N 115°47′20″W / 32.823°N 115.789°W / 32.823; -115.789Coordinates: 32°49′23″N 115°47′20″W / 32.823°N 115.789°W / 32.823; -115.789
Status Operational
Security class Minimum-medium
Capacity 2,308
Population 3,388 (146.8%) (as of 31 December 2012[1])
Opened October 1993
Managed by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Warden Amy Miller

California State Prison, Centinela (CEN) is a male-only state prison located in Imperial County, California, approximately 20 miles (32 km) from Imperial and El Centro.[2] The facility is sometimes referenced Centinela State Prison.[3]


CEN is situated on 2,000 acres (810 ha).[3] As of Fiscal Year 2007/2008, CEN had a total of 1,266 staff and an annual institutional operating budget of $161 million.[3] As of December 2008, it had a design capacity of 2,383 but a total institution population of 5,097, for an occupancy rate of 213% percent.[4] Of its housing units, 1 Level IV, and 3 Level III yards ("5 two tier buildings on each yard, 100 Double occupancy cells per building, razor wire cinder block/ chain link fenced perimeters and armed coverage") all surrounded by an additional electrified fence protected by two razor wire atop chain link fences and 1 Level I yard (2 buildings, open dormitory, maximum capacity of 200 inmates each, with secure chain link fence perimeter). Facility also includes a "CTC" ("Correctional Treatment Center", treating medical, dental, and mental health issues with an integrated hospital type area/ department)."ADSEG" (administrative segregation) has a maximum occupancy of 175, and a Firehouse (Centinela Fire Department, CEP is the three letter identifier) that houses 8 Level I inmates actively trained as structural/ wildland firefighters. Centinela Fire Department is part of the institutions rehabilitation program. It provides rigorous and accelerated training meeting state fire certification, equivalent to a volunteer structural/ wildland firefighter. A library facility was established in 2016. [3][5]


CEN is named after Cerro Centinela, the Spanish name for Mount Signal which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border. The prison opened in October 1993,[3] approximately 22 months after Calipatria State Prison located approximately 40 miles (64 km) north.[3]

A 1994 statute "require[d] the U.S. attorney general either to agree to compensate a state for incarcerating an illegal immigrant or to take the undocumented criminal into federal custody."[6] In January 1996, the administration of Governor Pete Wilson "tested the law" by asking Immigration and Naturalization Service agents "to take custody of a 25-year-old illegal immigrant serving time in Centinela State Prison for drug offenses"; however, the agents refused.[6] Therefore, in March 1996 Wilson sued the federal government to enforce the 1994 law.[6]

As of 1997, CEN was the "most overcrowded prison in the state" as it ran at "259 percent of designed capacity."[7] By 2007, however, Avenal State Prison was the California state prison system's "most overcrowded facility."[8]

In August 2006, a quadriplegic inmate died after the air conditioning failed in a van carrying him and another inmate from California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran to CEN.[9] According to a reporter's summary of statements by "the federal official now in control of medical care in the state's prison system," the death was "proof of a broken system"; according to the reporter's summary of statements by representatives of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the death was "a terrible event caused by happenstance."[9]

Notable prisoners[edit]


  1. ^ Offender Information Services Branch (3 January 2013). "Monthly Report of Population" (PDF). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: 2. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  2. ^ California State Board of Equalization. Prison Impact Study. Supplemental Report of the 2001 Budget Act for FY 2001-02. March 28, 2002.
  3. ^ a b c d e f California State Prison, Centinela (CEN) (2009). "Mission Statement". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Archived from the original on August 13, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  4. ^ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Monthly Report of Population as of Midnight September 30, 2007.
  5. ^ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California's Correctional Facilities. Accessed 24 Dec 2007.
  6. ^ a b c Holding, Reynolds. Wilson Sues Over Cost of Illegal Immigrants - Again. He says U.S. broke law by not accepting inmate. San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 1996.
  7. ^ Furillo, Andy. Pressures Building in State's 32 Prisons. Sacramento Bee, January 19, 1997.
  8. ^ Furillo, Andy. Health care crisis behind bars: Three deaths in two months focus federal attention on state's most overcrowded facility. The Sacramento Bee, May 4, 2007.
  9. ^ a b Martin, Mark. Inmate stuck in van for hours died in desert heat. The San Francisco Chronicle, November 17, 2006.

External links[edit]