City of Stockton Settles with California in Lawsuit Over Prison Hospital Construction
When California announced plans to build a 1,722-bed prison hospital near the city of Stockton, the city was not too happy. Along with San Joaquin County and the Stockton Chamber of Commerce, the city sued the state for a variety of concessions to ease the burden of the new prison on municipal services. After several rounds of settlement talks (the plaintiffs were represented by Steve Herum, a Stockton land-use attorney), the state has agreed to provide:
- up to $1 million in sales taxes on construction equipment and supplies
- a $4 million “Medical Guarded Unit” for the San Joaquin General Hospital
- a citizens advisory committee to liaise with state prison officials
- reimbursement for coroner’s fees, traffic impact, and water and sewage usage
- local hiring (although talk of establishing partnerships with local community colleges broke down)
Local columnist Michael Fitzgerald of the Stockton Record praises the city’s chutzpah:
If there’s a bully in California government, it is the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The CDCR likes to pick on Stockton by dumping prison facilities here. … That’s how the CDCR operates. CDCR is the unjust agent of a dysfunctional state that runs roughshod over poorer and politically weak communities.
The unfairness was not limited to opening new facilities here, and none in Southern California, though that region produces the most prisoners.
… “It was my impression in dealing with these corrections folks … they really see Stockton as Arkansas,” said Herum. “I think they’re going to treat us with a lot more respect and treat us more like a partner going into the future.”
I wonder if this story indicates a broader decline in local support for America’s carceral state. During the prison boom of the 1980s and ’90s, rural areas were often convinced that prisons would bring jobs and economic development, although subsequent studies have suggested otherwise. The documentary Prison Town, USA explores this cycle of excitement followed by disillusionment through the case study of Susanville, a small town way up in California’s northernmost corner.
Now, Stockton is not Susanville, of course; it’s a relatively large city with some good things going for it: a university, an accessible location between San Francisco and Sacramento, some promising renewable energy developments. But you wouldn’t describe Stockton as thriving: it was extremely hard hit in the recent housing bubble burst, its crime rates have been persistently high, its levels of literacy and educational attainment are low. Nonetheless, Stockton’s city fathers have thoroughly rejected any notion that the new state prison facility would be a good thing for business. Here’s Mike Locke of the San Joaquin Partnership, whose job is to woo companies to the area: “You have to appreciate that concertina wire is not inviting (to) investors.”