Central Valley

Future Mendota prison gets green light to hire

A federal hiring freeze that stalled the opening of a Mendota prison has ended, bringing the institution a step closer to housing inmates.

That is welcome news for Mendota officials, who are thrilled at the prospect of the nearly 330 job opportunities and the boost to Fresno County's economy that the prison will generate.

"More dollars will be circulating around the county," Mendota Mayor Robert Silva said Tuesday.

A target date for the prison's opening has not been set, a prison official said.

"The prison has been stagnant because of the freeze," Mendota City Manager Krystal Chojnacki said. "We're hoping soon they'll start receiving the first round of inmates."

Applications are being accepted for jobs that include correctional officers, secretaries, nurses, physician assistants and vocational training instructors, said Ian Connors, executive assistant for the Federal Correctional Institution, Mendota.

Inquiries about jobs available at the prison can be emailed to MEN/recruiter@bop.gov.

Construction began on the $250 million Mendota prison in February 2005. Officials at the time anticipated completion by 2008. That timeline started slipping when federal funding stalled.

Last summer, the Bureau of Prisons announced that it planned to open the medium-security Mendota prison in early 2011. The prison is built to hold 1,152 inmates.

Warden Paul Copenhaver and some startup staff were hired, but then the federal jobs freeze began. It was lifted last month.

In addition to creating new jobs -- and a payroll -- the prison will boost the local economy by purchasing services from businesses, Silva said.

The new jobs are much needed: Nearly half the workers in Mendota are jobless, and Fresno County's unemployment rate topped 18% earlier this year.

"We've been pushing our legislators," Silva said, "to get this prison open."