Judge halts planned construction of Delano Prison

A Bakersfield, California Judge struck a resounding blow to the plans of the California Department of Corrections' (CDC) to build yet another prison. In a decision issued in July 2001, Superior Court Judge Roger Randall concluded that the CDC's environmental review of the cumulative impacts of the proposed prison was inadequate. Judge Randall ordered the Department to complete a new environmental review including an analysis of the impact of past, present and future projects in the area.

Randall's Order specifically bars the state from proceeding with plans to build a $335 million, 5,160 bed maximum-security prison slated for Delano, California. The trial court's decision is a big win for a lawsuit brought by Critical Resistance, a national organization opposing the expansion of the prison industrial complex.

In a unique coalition, anti-prison activists, environmentalists and residents of Delano have waged an unceasing campaign questioning the need for the proposed prison and the purported economic benefits of prisons. Their arguments have been bolstered by new prisoner population projections from the CDC itself.

"The CDC's most recent Spring 2001 inmate population projections forecast 18,000 fewer inmates than the CDC's Fall 2000 projections-issued only six months ago. These dramatic new projections confirm previous forecasts from both the Legislative Analyst's Office and the Governor in his 2001-02 State Budget," said Rose Braz, Director of Critical Resistance. "It is undisputed: The state's prison population is on the decline, growth is projected to continue to decline, and the state's prison population is below the CDC's current capacity. California simply does not need another prison."

The lawsuit is allowed under the California Environmental Quality Act. Over two dozen organizations from across the state, including the Delano Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Fresno and Los Angeles NAACP, signed on to a friend of the court brief in support of the lawsuit.

Opposition in Delano has also been mounting. "The CDC is again attempting to saddle a town with the infrastructure costs of hosting a prison. Delano schools, like schools in poor districts throughout the state, are desperately overcrowded, and the city needs a new high school. Sacramento has set aside a maximum of $4 million, to be divided between the city and Kern County, to offset a $335 million project," said Joe Morales of the Delano Center. "This inadequate 'mitigation' will put a strain on city services and Delano's budget for years, hampering the city's ability to provide services or to promote other economic development that-unlike the prison-might provide significant job opportunities for Delano residents," continued Mr. Morales.

"The state of California needs to focus on finding alternative models for positive growth in the rural and low income areas of the Central Valley. Another prison in Delano will only further depress the local economy and discourage other types of economic growth," said Cruz Phillips, Director of Community Organizing for the United Farm Workers in Delano. "Farming is the base industry and largest employer for our community. We view another prison, the fourth in the area, as a loss of jobs for the average citizen in Delano and a loss of way of life for many people," said William Carlisle, General Manager of the Southern San Joaquin Municipal Utility District in Delano.

"Although Delano already has one prison, built in 1990, the unemployment rate remains the same as in 1990 ­ a whopping 26%. Moreover, the Department of Corrections itself projects that of the 1,600 new jobs which will be created by the new prison, only 72 will go to residents of Delano. Prisons simply don't bring economic prosperity," said U.C. Berkeley professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Activists further cite the current energy crisis and State Controller Kathleen Connell's dire warning that the state will spend 26.8 billion over the next 18 months for energy. "Given that the CDC, by its own numbers, is already under capacity, and given the state's current power crisis and need for funding elsewhere, the Legislature should reexamine the need for the proposed Delano prison before ground is broken," pointed out Craig Gilmore of the California Prison Moratorium Project.

Moreover, the cost of prison construction and incarceration is on the rise. According to the Legislative Analyst, the average cost of incarcerating someone in California, excluding prison construction, is set at $25,607 per year in the state's 2001-02 budget, an increase of about 13%.

The legal victory could only be had by the power of the coalition assembled by Critical Resistance. The unity of that coalition should inspire and inform us in all that we do.

For more information and to help in the Delano campaign see: www.criticalresistance.org/delano.html