In 1851, California activated its first state-run institution. This institution was a 268-ton wooden ship named The Waban, and was anchored in the San Francisco Bay. The prison ship housed 30 inmates who subsequently constructed San Quentin State Prison, which opened in 1852 with approximately 68 inmates.

Since 1852, the Department has activated thirty-one prisons across the state. CDCR’s history dates back to 1912, when the agency was called California State Detentions Bureau. In 1951 it was renamed California Department of Corrections. In 2004 it was renamed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In 2018-2019 it cost an average of $81,203 to house an inmate for one year.