California State Prison, Centinela

Coordinates: 32°49′23″N 115°47′20″W / 32.823°N 115.789°W / 32.823; -115.789
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California State Prison, Centinela (CEN)

Aerial View
LocationImperial County, California
Coordinates32°49′23″N 115°47′20″W / 32.823°N 115.789°W / 32.823; -115.789
Security classMinimum-Maximum
Population2,773 (120.1% capacity) (as of January 31, 2023[1])
OpenedOctober 1993
Managed byCalifornia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
WardenRaymond Madden[2]

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.[3] The facility is sometimes referenced Centinela State Prison.[4]


CEN is situated on 2,000 acres (810 ha).[4] Of its housing units, 1 Level IV GP, 2 Level III GP, 1 Level III SNY 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.[4][5]

Population and staffing[edit]

As of Fiscal Year 2007/2008, CEN had a total of 1,266 staff and an annual institutional operating budget of $161 million.[4] 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.[6]

As of April 30, 2020, CEN was incarcerating people at 142.3% of its design capacity, with 3,284 occupants.[7]


CEN was named after Cerro Centinela, the Spanish name for Mount Signal which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border. The prison opened in October 1993,[4] approximately 22 months after Calipatria State Prison located approximately 40 miles (64 km) north.[4]

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."[8] 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.[8] Therefore, in March 1996 Wilson sued the federal government to enforce the 1994 law.[8]

As of 1997, CEN was the "most overcrowded prison in the state" as it ran at "259 percent of designed capacity."[9] By 2007, however, Avenal State Prison was the California state prison system's "most overcrowded facility."[10]

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.[11] 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."[11]

Notable prisoners[edit]


  1. ^ "California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Monthly Report of Population As of Midnight January 31, 2023" (PDF). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Internal Oversight and Research. January 31, 2023. Retrieved September 21, 2023.
  2. ^ CDCR. "CDCR - Centinela State Prison (CEN)". Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  3. ^ California State Board of Equalization. Prison Impact Study. Supplemental Report of the 2001 Budget Act for FY 2001-02. March 28, 2002.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California's Correctional Facilities. Archived 2007-12-14 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 24 Dec 2007.
  6. ^ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Monthly Report of Population as of Midnight September 30, 2007. Archived October 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Monthly Report of Population As of Midnight April 30, 2020" (PDF). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Internal Oversight and Research. April 30, 2020. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 3, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Furillo, Andy. Pressures Building in State's 32 Prisons. Sacramento Bee, January 19, 1997.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b Martin, Mark. Inmate stuck in van for hours died in desert heat. The San Francisco Chronicle, November 17, 2006.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Wambaugh. p. 388
  15. ^ "CDCR Public Inmate Locator Disclaimer".
  16. ^ "Reading Eagle - Google News Archive Search".
  17. ^ "Archives". Los Angeles Times.
  18. ^ "25 Years After L.A. Riots Damian 'Football' Williams Reflects on His Life and Role in the Rebellion". 29 April 2017.
  19. ^ "After parole, podcast producers are turning skills learned in prison into paying gigs". 22 September 2021.

External links[edit]