The Biggest Prisons in California

California has the country’s second-largest prison population after Texas, but the Golden State has greatly reduced the number of inmates in its state prison system after years of sentencing reforms. The coronavirus pandemic also led to a spike in the release of thousands of nonviolent offenders who had 60 days or less to serve in an effort to maximize space.

Today, about 95,000 people are serving time in California’s state-run correctional facilities, down from a peak of 165,000 in 2006, a population so large that federal courts mandated the state find a way to ease prison overcrowding. In 2015, California voters had their say, passing Proposition 47, a ballot measure to further reduce overcrowding by lowering penalties for nonviolent crimes like shoplifting, larceny of low-value items, and possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.

But recent data shows that most of California’s state-run adult correctional facilities still house more inmates than the facilities were designed to hold. Prison overcrowding typically requires measures like converting double-occupancy cells into triples and filling common areas like gymnasiums with bunk beds. Prison overcrowding increases the chance of violence encounters between inmates, reduces sanitary conditions, and adds more security challenges for prison staff. (Also see, California is the state with the most people on death row.)

To identify the biggest prisons in California and how crowded they are, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed inmate counts in 32 of the state’s adult correctional institutions. Data is as of March 1, 2023, as reported by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Correctional Policy Research and Internal Oversight Office of Research. Inmate counts include all boarders confined in state-run prisons. All data came from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Out of the 32 state correctional facilities with data, only eight hold fewer inmates than the facility was designed to hold. These include the California Institution for Women in the city of Chino, east of Los Angeles, and the California State Prison in Sacramento.  

At the other end of the spectrum, the state’s largest prisons by inmate populations are also among the most overcrowded. These include Avenal State Prison in the central San Joaquin Valley and the California Rehabilitation Center in Riverside County, which are run at 159% and 166% overcapacity, respectively. (This is what prisoners are paid for forced labor in every state.)

Five California state prisons, including Avenal and CRC have occupancy rates of more than 150%, meaning that the facility is holding about one extra inmate for every two it was intended to hold. The average occupancy rate for all 32 correctional facilities is 118%.

Here are California’s biggest prisons.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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