Community Involvement, Firefighters, Jobs, Training and Facilities

Sierra Conservation Center celebrates 50 years

Retired staff and wardens attend anniversary ceremony

Wardens past and present, along with current and long-retired employees, recently gathered to celebrate five decades of public service at Sierra Conservation Center (SCC).

“Today is a day of reflection and celebration,” said SCC Warden Heidi Lackner. “This is 50 years to the day – Oct. 9, 1965 – when SCC was first dedicated.”

Kelly Harrington, Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, said the fire camp system has a long history.

“In the early 1900s, the camp program became very important,” he said, noting inmates built and improved roads, battled fires and provided services to surrounding communities. “One of the best rehabilitative efforts we have is the camps.”

He said keeping the camps full has always been a challenge, but those administering the program have consistently kept the camps running.

“It’s very difficult to keep the camps going but … the wardens have come up with innovative ways to keep the camps at about 70 percent,” Director Harrington said. “The Department is really focusing on rehabilitation and those who graduate from the camp program are some of our best examples of rehabilitation.”

Director Harrington then read a proclamation issued by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr.

Rehabilitation programs offered at Sierra Conservation Center

Amy Miller, Associate Director of Reception Center Missions, praised the programs offered to those who choose to turn around their lives.

“Sierra Conservation Center provides educational opportunities from elementary through high school,” she said. “And, as of a few weeks ago, they now offer a college education. SCC also provides vocational training so the inmates can earn a living (when they re-enter society). About 90 percent of our inmate population is going back out there to return to their communities.”

Associate Director Miller said SCC is an economic driver in the community.

“SCC employs over 1,000 people,” she said. “Many of you are leaders in your local community.”

She said many employees coach youth sports or volunteer for community service projects.

“Prison work is not an easy job,” she said. “Thank you for what you do.”

Conservation camp mission is still necessary

Justin Sanders, Deputy Chief of Conservation Camps at Cal Fire, said the partnership between CDCR and Cal Fire continues to be a success.

“SCC’s mission is still valid today,” he said. “Today, 50 years later, SCC (and other institutions) continue to train inmates to supply firefighters to the camps. All of our camps statewide are part of that community.”

Sanders said CDCR and Cal Fire’s collaboration is a positive example of a successful joint operation.

“I’m proud to be part of the most successful partnership between state agencies in the history of California,” he said.

SCC Chief Deputy Warden Joel Martinez acknowledged the former and current wardens in attendance, as well as two retired Correctional Officers who were part of the original 1965 activation team.

“I’m glad to see a lot of familiar faces, many I worked with in the past,” he said.

Past SCC Wardens attending were Vern Smith (1989-1991), Matthew Kramer (1996-2006), Ivan Clay (2007-2009) and Frank Chavez (2010-2012). Retired Correctional Officers Ray Bailey and Bill Cavanaugh also attended.

“To all SCC alumni here, welcome back,” CDW Martinez said.

Deuel Vocational Institution Warden Jerome Price and Central California Women’s Facility Warden Deborah K. Johnson were on hand for the ceremony.

New time capsule placed in Sierra Conservation Center wall

The event ended with a new time capsule placed behind the 1965 plaque. According to Warden Lackner, she left specific instructions not to open it until October 9, 2065.

The new time capsule contains:

  • Newspapers from Oct. 9, 2015
  • Current copy of Title 15
  • The CDCR Blueprint
  • SCC Challenge Coin
  • An invitation for the re-dedication ceremony
  • Copy of the re-dedication ceremony program
  • Cookbook
  • Flyer from a bake sale that raised money to put on the ceremony
  • A print-out of the SCC Inside CDCR “Unlocking History” story
  • Current staff roster
  • The 50th anniversary video produced by SCC
  • Letter from Warden Lackner.

Former Warden Vern Smith said he enjoyed the event. He also worked at the institution from 1978-1982 as a program administrator, which he said is the equivalent of today’s Captain.

“One of my proudest times was finally filling all the camps,” he said. “We had them full for a while. And working with the staff is a great memory. The staff here is always top notch.”

Lt. Robert Kelsey, AA/Public Information Officer for SCC, organized the event. He said when he started planning the event a year ago, he realized a lot of information was missing.

“I found when people retired, they took little pieces with them so a lot of our history was lost,” he said.

Family members of the original Superintendent gave him boxes of memorabilia which helped him piece together SCC’s history.

Others in attendance included the representatives from the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Grand Jury members and members of the SCC Citizens Advisory Committee.

Story Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer

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