Name: California Men’s Colony
Prison System: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Status: Active, opened in 1954
Location: San Luis Obispo, CA
Address: Highway 1, San Luis Obispo, CA 93409
Staff P.O. Box 8101
San Luis Obispo, CA 93409-8101
Inmate Name and Inmate CDCR Number
P.O. Box 8103
San Luis Obispo, CA 93409-8101
Phone Number: 805-547-7900; inmates cannot receive phone calls
Offender Gender: Male
Security Level: Minimum; Medium
Distinguishing Feature: The California Men’s Colony is one of only two prisons in the state to offer a hospice care program to inmates. With the large number of prisoners serving extended sentences or life sentences, the reality is that a large number of people will die in prison. The hospice program hopes to extend the general goal of hospice care, which is to help people die in as dignified a manner as possible. The program began in 2001 and over 100 inmate volunteers have been trained through the program. These volunteers perform two distinct functions. First, they visit terminally ill inmates who are in the prison hospital. Second, these volunteers work with other inmates who may have lost loved ones, but been unable to attend memorial services or experience their last days because of incarceration.
Number of Inmates: 4,088
Percent Capacity: 106.5%
Warden: Josie Gastelo
Overview: The California Men’s Colony is one of the largest minimum and medium security facilities in California. It has gotten a reputation as a country club prison because the living conditions at the facility are far less difficult than the conditions at other prisons. In fact, victims and their families sometimes object to an inmate going to the California Men’s Colony because of its cushy treatment. However, the leniency and widespread availability of rehabilitation programs appears to be making a significant difference in the lives of the inmates. While recidivism rates remain high for inmates who leave the California Men’s Colony, many of them find ways to meaningfully participate in the community while still incarcerated. They are involved in a number of charitable organizations and volunteer both in and out of the prison setting.
Living Conditions: The California Men’s Colony (CMC) contains a minimum and a medium security complex. The East complex is a medium security general population complex that is divided into four facilities, each with its own housing unit, dining room, classroom, and recreation area. In addition, the East complex is the location of the CMC’s acute care hospital, which provides medical care, not just for inmates at the CMC, but for inmates located throughout the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The hospital is also one location for treating mental health crises among prisoners; it has 50 beds for inmates experiencing severe mental health problems as well as the ability to provide outpatient mental health services to identified inmates.
The West complex is minimum security and contains three facilities that house prisoners in dormitory-type setting. The West complex also houses the camp program that teaches inmates fire suppression skills. Inmates in the West complex can participate in the Conservation Camp program, which puts inmates into the community to work on community service projects.
The West complex is considered a reentry hub, which helps inmates transition from life in prison to life in the outside world. This means that inmates at the CMC have greater access to career technical education and academic education programs than inmates at other prisons. They also have access to psychological programs that will, hopefully, help reduce the criminal behavior that led to incarceration in the first place. These programs target substance abuse issues, family problems, anger management, and directly tackle the criminal mindset by exploring non-criminal alternatives. Inmates in the West complex also get to take advantage of practical advantages that increase their opportunities for success on the outside. The vocational and technical programs at the prison are connected with outside employers, so that many prisoners leave the prison with a job. The prisoners can receive help with financial planning or creating a career path. Most significantly, they can actually get an ID card prior to release, which is necessary for many reasons.
Prison Programs: California Men’s Colony is actually well known for its wide variety of prison programming. Of all of the men’s prisons in California, the California Men’s Colony may be the most geared towards rehabilitation and helping prisoners gain life skills as well as educational and vocational training. Prisoners have access to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, which are available in all California prisons. In addition, the can join the Central Coast Adult School, which helps prepare prisoners for the work force. Inmates can join the Arts in Corrections program, which uses art as a tool for rehabilitation. They can work in the community through the camp program, which uses trustees for community service work. It also has an active Prisoners Against Child Abuse organization, which fundraises for children’s charities.
Production: The California Men’s Colony is one of the major participants in the Prison Industry Authority, which manufactures a wide variety of products to be used in other state owned facilities and to be sold in the marketplace.
History: For a large prison in a state with a tremendous history of prison overcrowding, the CMC has a relatively benign history; there seems to have been a genuine effort to help inmates with rehabilitation at the prison. However, female prison guards reported sexual harassment at the facility for years before winning a very large settlement against the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Famous Inmates: Timothy Leary was not only one of the most famous people to ever be imprisoned at CMC, he was also one of the most famous people to ever escape from the prison. Placed there because he was deemed to be a very low-risk prisoner, Leary escaped from the CMC and fled to Algeria, and was eventually captured in Afghanistan. Once returned to the United States and remanded to the custody of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Leary had to serve the rest of his sentence in a more secure facility.
Year Built or Opened: 1954 Warden or Supervisor: Josie Gastelo Daily Inmate Count: 4,088 Security Level(s): Minimum; Medium
Staff P.O. Box 8101 San Luis Obispo, CA 93409-8101
Highway 1, San Luis Obispo, CA 93409