Carl Larson, longtime CDCR leader, passes away

Carl Larson in front of CDCR logo.
Carl Larson

On Monday, September 9, 2013, CDCR lost a dear friend and a legend when Carl Larson passed away unexpectedly at his home in Folsom.

Larson served CDCR for more than 48 years until finally retiring in 2012.

He started with the Department as a Correctional Officer in July 1960 at San Quentin State Prison. 

Over the years he progressed rapidly through the ranks, from Sergeant to Correctional Program Supervisor II, Lieutenant, Captain, Program Administrator, Correctional Administrator, Chief Deputy Warden, Warden and then to Regional Administrator, ultimately serving at six prisons.

Early in his career, Larson recognized the importance of education in improving one’s ability to be effective in a chosen field.

And so, while working full time, he put himself through college, earning an Associate of Science degree in Police Science from College of Marin, a Bachelor of Science degree in Police Science and Administration from California State University, Los Angeles, and eventually pursuing a lifetime teaching credential for community colleges in the field of Criminal Justice, Police, and Correctional Science from UCLA.

He used the skills he gained both on the job and in the classroom to mentor a host of CDCR staff, many of whom rose to ranks of prominence in the Department.

Passion for improvement

Larson’s passion for improvement was recognized by those who would become his most admired mentors – former CDCR Directors Richard McGee and Ruth Rushen.

Ultimately, Larson was asked to join executives in Sacramento as a Project Director to lead the team that developed the Department’s Inmate Work Training Program and was instrumental in the rewrite of the state’s determinate sentencing law.

With that assignment complete, Larson was put in charge of the Department’s New Prison Construction Program in 1980. Under his guidance, the Department built the first new prisons in 30 years, Solano State Prison and the two Southern Security Maximum Units at Tehachapi.

As the Warden with the responsibility of leading the Planning Design and Activation Branch, now known as Facility Planning, Construction and Management, he created the branch from scratch with the help of former CDCR employee Dennis Dunne and the guiding hand of former CDCR Director Jim Gomez, who would forge a lifelong friendship with Larson.

Larson never lost enthusiasm to help Department

He never lost his deep love and enthusiasm for the Department, having returned to take on special roles several times after “retiring.”

His most recent stint as the Director of Planning, Acquisition and Design saw him return to the branch he had created. He worked tirelessly to bring the department back to a place of national prominence, starting with brokering the first meeting in years with the President of the American Correctional Association (ACA).

With Larson’s intervention, the department and the ACA were able to initiate a path toward obtaining accreditation for CDCR.  He also served on the Northern California Peace Officers Association board of directors as vice president.

Last year, Larson joined the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) as a consultant. While at CCA, he worked alongside former CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, whom he had known since Scott was a young boy running around on the grounds of San Quentin when his mother Peggy was Warden.

“Carl Larson epitomized a correctional professional.  He loved the department and its staff more than anybody I ever knew,” said Kernan upon learning of his passing. “He was a fabric of the evolution of the Department over his nearly 50 years of service.  He was committed to making our profession safe and respectable throughout his career.  Personally, he was such a dear friend that his loss is devastating beyond words. I know you all join me in wishing his wife Karon and the Larson family our condolences.”

While I did not have the pleasure of working with Carl Larson, it is clear to me that CDCR and the people of California have lost a devoted, passionate person who dedicated his life to serving this great state. I thank Carl Larson for his nearly five decades of service and extend my sincere sympathy to Larson’s loved ones and to the entire CDCR family.


Jeff Beard, Secretary

Read more tributes to staff and retirees who have passed away.

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