California’s newest prison—the first one commissioned since the 1990s—is also the first in decades not to be called a prison. The California Health Care Facility, Stockton (CHCF), opened in 2013 on the site of the former Karl Holton Youth Correctional Facility. Designed to hold 1,722 beds and now providing housing and treatment for 2,951 “inmate-patients,” it houses the most medically and mentally challenged prisoners in the state. CHCF marks the dawn of a new era in California prisons. Although considered by the State of California a specialized tool that will help it comply with court orders to provide a higher standard of care in both medical and mental health treatment, it also serves as a window into the changing vision of prisoners and of the correctional enterprise in a state that helped lead the move to mass incarceration a generation ago. In this regard, it is interesting to compare this new vision for California prisons with a similarly paradigm-shifting prison—Pelican Bay State Prison and its notorious SHU (for security housing unit) opened in 1989 as California approached the peak of its commitment to mass imprisonment.

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