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California State Prison, Centinela (CEN)
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 2,383
Population 5,097 (214%) (as of fy 2007/08[1])
Opened October 1993
Managed by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Director Domingo Uribe, Jr., Warden (acting)

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, 2,000 are medium-security Level III ("Individual cells, fenced perimeters and armed coverage") or "CTC" ("Correctional Treatment Center"); the remainder are minimum-security Level I ("Open dormitories without a secure perimeter"), "Firehouse," or "ADSEG" (administrative segregation).[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]


  1. ^ California State Prison, Centinela (CEN) (2009). "Institution Statistics". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  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. 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.

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