Female inmates help build state-of-the-art mental health facility

By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Female inmates at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) have transformed 7,270 square feet of dirt into a state-of-the-art Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) Treatment Building.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently dedicated the building at CCWF that was largely constructed by female inmates training in the construction trades, to enhance mental health treatment for inmates.

“Today is truly a great day,” said Warden Deborah K. Johnson. “It’s a good feeling to be the warden here and have the opportunity to see women in the population learning some skills that you probably would have never learned before.”

The Inmate Ward Labor (IWL) program allows inmates to earn pre-apprenticeship and other construction-related certificates. Many women who constructed the building graduated during the dedication ceremony, earning certificates of completion from Fresno Local 104 Sheet Metal Workers Pre-Apprenticeship and OSHA 10 safety training, CPR/AED certification, LEED Green Building Systems certification and operators cards for forklifts, reach lift and scissor lift.

“The certifications these women have earned from the Fresno Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 will enable them to find good-paying jobs upon parole, lessening the chances that they will be coming back,” said Diana Toche, CDCR Undersecretary for Health Care Services, who presided over the building dedication.

Construction Supervisor II Marty Haight shared that an inmate who had gone through CCWF’s pre-apprenticeship program and will parole in two years has applied for a work program as part of her re-entry. The certifications obtained through IWL, he said, will allow her to start as a second- or third-level apprentice electrician, with a better rate of pay than those without her experience.

IWL Chief (A) Art Louie praised staff and inmates for their meticulous attention to detail in constructing the facility, and for their many hours of hard work and flexibility, as construction inside the secure perimeter of a prison is no small feat.

“The architect of record actually paid a visit and looked at this building with his staff,” Louie told the graduates. “What he indicated was the quality of construction of this building exceeds the workmanship of many of the buildings he has seen in the private sector.”

The $5.1 million, 7,133-square-foot facility will provide space for group and individual therapy sessions for up to 64 inmates at a time in addition to offices for administrative staff and clinicians. The building is the seventh and final project constructed by CDCR over the last five years to increase capacity for mental health treatment ranging from outpatient counseling to acute care that is required by the U.S. Federal court as part of the Coleman settlement.

“This facility demonstrates our commitment to meeting the mental health needs of all of our inmates, regardless of the level of care they need,” Toche said. “At the same time, by incorporating state-of-the-art technology to conserve water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the building shows CDCR’s commitment to environmental stewardship.”

Notable sustainable features of the new building include low-flow toilets and other water-saving plumbing, and highly efficient, roof-mounted heating and air conditioning systems and skylights that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide more natural light that is beneficial to mental health treatment.

CCWF Chief Executive Officer Kerri Oglesby said the building will serve both mainline EOP inmates and those housed in the Administrative Segregation Unit. The facility uses the latest in security features that will enable counseling sessions to be conducted in a safe and dignified setting.

“We’re going to have smaller, more confidential settings for patient treatment,” Oglesby said. “And with the advances in technology we have available to us now, we know that it’s going to enhance our patient care – we are very excited about that.”

For the women in the construction program, the building is about so much more than concrete and glass – it represents more than a year of hard work that consisted of both on-site training and intensive bookwork.

Inmate Eva, who has been involved with IWL for about seven years, agreed that the hardest part of this program was the coursework.

“It’s really like you are in apprentice class,” she said.

The curriculum is divided into seven chapters: apprenticeship orientation, health and safety, CPR and first aid, blueprints, industry awareness and opportunities in the craft, construction management and heritage of the American worker.

“For the family members and the inmate support that is here, you should be very proud of the graduates because they had to work through some very difficult things,” Johnson said. “Some of the classroom work was very challenging, but you worked together, to make it happen. You are graduating as a unit and that is very, very powerful.”

Inmate Graciela said she started IWL for financial reasons, but quickly learned that she would gain much more than a paycheck from the experience.

“The skills I have obtained are priceless, and the work ethics I have incorporated into my life are valued beyond the dollar bill,” she said. “I have a renewed sense of confidence in myself to succeed and advance beyond these walls. What I received from the IWL program is far greater than what any certification offers. What I now have is promise in my own future, which is the best investment in my choices I have ever made.”