UPDATE: Taft Mayor Dave Noerr is calling on the Bureau of Prisons to hold off on closing the TCI for at least three months, if not longer, to allow for the COVID-19 pandemic to subside.

“Now is not the time to move more than a thousand inmates and endanger them and staff,” he said. “The inmates are safer inside the facility where they have no cases of the coronavirus and where they thoroughly screen all staff and visitors prior to entry—even taking their temperature.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Noerr said. “The BOP understands that inmate movement is risky and yet they want to move more than a thousand from our backyard at a time like this? I strongly urge the BOP to put a halt to the closure immediately.”

If things move forward as planned, a first group of inmates are scheduled to be moved from Gardner Field tomorrow and flown to other BOP facilities out of state, Noerr said.

TAFT, Calif. (KGET) — The Taft Correctional Institution is confirmed to close by April 30, according to the Management & Training Corporation.

MTC, which operates the prison, said it was notified on Wednesday by the federal Bureau of Prisons that at this point, it intends to close the Taft Correctional Institution at the end of April. 

The prison could have been closed at the end of this month, but BOP recently decided to keep it open at least another month in the hopes of finding an alternative to closure. 

Earlier this week, MTC filed a WARN notice with the County of Kern saying that it expected its contract with the BOP would end April 30. More than 300 employees will be laid off.

The Taft Correctional Institution currently has more than 1,000 inmates and contributes $4.6 million to the local economy, according to MTC.

The inmates at the prison are expected to be transferred to other facilities.

In addition to the pending closure, the prison is also working to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 by suspending visits, limiting inmate movement, limiting staff travel and more.

Donald Thornsberry, a vocational instructor for MTC, criticized the BOP for deciding to close the prison amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“In my opinion, this is morally and ethically wrong to do to staff and inmates during this time,” he said in a statement to the media. “The job market is suffering severely, there is already an influx of unemployment cases, and we do not know when this pandemic will end.”

Taft City Manager Craig Jones echoed similar feelings in statement released this afternoon.

“We as a community are saddened to learn that the Taft Correctional Institution is set to close at the end of April,” he said. “Our nation is battling a viral pandemic coupled by the economic shock. This is not the time to make hasty decisions triggering additional unemployment and despair to the hardworking people of Taft.”

Jones said the loss of more 300 jobs and the potential relocation of the families of inmates who will be transferred from the prison will be very devastating for the city.

“Congressman Kevin McCarthy has worked tirelessly with the Attorney General’s office to fund needed repairs and keep the prison open and functioning,” he said. “McCarthy’s office, as well as the City of Taft, has and will continue to fight for a transparent plan which will give certainty to the employees and the community.”  

View previous coverage: Feb. 4, 2020