Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The Sierra Conservation Center has a new warden in Heidi Lackner.

The Mokelumne Hill resident has worked as acting warden at the Jamestown prison since 2012, and Lackner was the chief deputy administrator at SCC in 2011.

She has been working for the state corrections department since 1985.

"My heart was always in the prisons," said Lackner, 53.

"I really enjoy trying to make a difference in people's lives," she said, referring to both staff and inmates.

Lackner moved to SCC after working for five years as an administrator at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione. Before that, the Sacramento native worked as a business manager at Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center and in staff services at California State Prison, Solano. She also has experience in human resources and labor relations.

Gov. Jerry Brown's office announced the appointment last week. She will make $130,668 a year, according to the governor's office.

Lackner said the background she brings from the business side of the prison system will be a strong tool as she works as warden. A prison is like a major corporation, she said on Wednesday, and as warden you are the operation's CEO.

"You are responsible for running a self-contained city, which feeds, houses, educates, employs, programs and administers health care for over 4,700 inmates," she said.

According to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, SCC holds 4,969 minimum- to medium-level security inmates and employs 1,112 staff members. The prison operates on a $111 million annual budget.

Sierra Conservation Center is one of two prisons in the state where inmates train for the Conservation Camp programs that offer fire protection and other services around California. The Jamestown center oversees 19 camps from Central to Southern California, according to the Corrections Department.

Keeping those camp beds full will be an immediate challenge as Lackner takes the position. The facility now has about 280 empty camp beds as recent changes to the state corrections system continue to take effect.

The realignment program known as AB 109 has shifted responsibility for many inmates deemed to be low level offenders from the state to local jurisdictions, leaving fewer low-risk offenders to man the camps.

"We are working hard as a team to get inmate firefighters classified and trained to be out in our camps," Lackner stated in an e-mail. "Due to strained resources in our counties, our camps are a valuable resource."