Mice, maggots force closure of California prison dining hall

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SACRAMENTO — A judge this week ordered California officials to close a prison dining hall where mice, maggots and rainwater contaminated with bird droppings have been entering through a leaky roof.

Kings County Superior Court Judge Donna Tarter gave officials two weeks to stop using the dining hall at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran.

Routine cleanups aren't enough to stem the health and safety risk from "water contaminated with fecal matter, the presence of moldy and saturated ceiling tiles, and the entry of mice and maggots through areas of ceiling unprotected by tiles," she said in an order signed Tuesday.

The long-neglected building "is nearly irreconcilable with its location in a nation and state of such financial abundance and advanced legal standards for the ... cleanliness of food service establishments," she added.

California is spending $260 million over four years to repair leaking prison roofs, and Tarter said the hall can reopen once the roof is fixed. However, officials say there are problems at 20 of the state's 34 prisons and that the total cost of overdue maintenance is more than $1 billion.

State officials said they are fixing the roofs as fast as they can. They blamed inmates for attracting vermin by tossing food and hiding illicit liquor in the damaged ceiling.

The judge acted after the nonprofit Prison Law Office sued on behalf of an inmate who says his health was affected.

"We are thrilled with the order but frustrated that it took a lawsuit to make the state clean up its act," attorney Sara Norman said Thursday. "The state spent two years and significant resources denying the obvious — that nobody should be using that disgusting dining hall."

Corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said officials are evaluating the order. "We care deeply about our inmates' health and safety, including providing safe housing and facilities," she said.

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