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Prison facility opens 8 miles from Manteca
California Health Care Facility Warden Ron Rackley unveils the plaque at the dedication ceremony with CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard Tuesday morning in Stockton. The entire project which included demolishing the vacant womens facility that was once located on the grounds cost $839 million. Construction jobs were believed to have pumped more than $1 billion into the local economy. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

STOCKTON – When the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation set out to construct a new hospital facility for inmates on the outskirts of Stockton, the move seemed crazy.

At $839 million, the project appeared bloated and nearly impossible to tackle. The state had to turn to not one but two massive Northern California general contractors that typically handle large jobs independently and on their own terms.

But with a deadline set by the United States Supreme Court looming, work forged ahead.

And starting next week, the first inmates – those needing long-term care that can’t be offered by contracted local hospitals or prison infirmaries – will start showing up at the California Health Care Facility just off of Highway 99 on Arch Road west of where it intersects with Austin Road within 8 miles of downtown Manteca.

The construction of 31 buildings, 11 guard towers and a 13-foot electrified lethal fence for the 1.4 million square-foot complex supported 5,500 construction jobs. The prison hospital will employ more than 2,400 civil servants.

The CDCR officially dedicated the facility on Tuesday morning.

“It’s a bit overwhelming to see everything completed and ready to go today,” said Warden Ron Rackley. “It took a lot of planning and a lot of work by our staff during such a short period of time, and for us to come in on time and under budget is amazing and is a testament to the people that we have working here.

“There’s an exciting feeling, and we want to do whatever we can to be as professional as possible as we move through this early phase.”

Not everybody shared Rackley’s optimism.

Just outside of the facility’s main gate, Emily Harris – a statewide coordinator for Citizens for a Responsible Budget – led a group of protestors in chants decrying the construction and opening of another prison in California.

The Oakland-based organization brought a few of its members that were interspersed with other Bay Area residents and locals that have taken issue with the amount of money that the state has elected to pour into the complex. It was funded by the Public Safety and Offender Services Rehabilitation Act of 2007, which earmarked money for corrections expansion.

The group was far outnumbered and rarely got the attention to those that left the grounds, but that didn’t deter Harris or her sign-waving crew from carrying their message.

“We’re a coalition to stop any prison or jail expansion, even though we recognize the constitutional precedent that was handed down regarding the people incarcerated in California,” Harris said. “What we want people to know is that the elderly and the sick and the infirmed are the least likely recidivists, so it doesn’t make sense for these people to be sent to a special facility like this.

“They should be paroled and sent home to their families.”

But the initial construction that will provide housing and treatment for 1,722 inmate-patients, serving the sick, the infirmed and the mentally ill, is only the tip of the iceberg.

In 2010 – when construction crews formally broke ground on the hospital facility – CDCR got the green light to move forward with plans to overhaul the shuttered DeWitt-Nelson Youth Correction Facility as a complement to its neighboring medical complex. With a focus on mental health, the DeWitt-Nelson expansion would add more than 1,100 additional beds.