2,000 more prisoners takes some getting used to - IWN op-ed 12/14/06
Here we go again with the NIMBY factor: Not in my backyard. This time, though, the NIMBY target, the overcrowded James A. Musick Branch Jail, is already in Irvine’s backyard and in Lake Forest’s, too. Both cities are viewing with some alarm Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona’s plan for a $250 million expansion of the minimum security facility, which would then house both minimum and medium-security prisoners. And that would be only the first phase of the addition, according to Sheriff’s Dept. spokesman Rick Dostal. Even more bucks will be needed, he noted.
Such talk is not going over well with adjoining residents, who are not overjoyed with the lockup now, much less looking forward to a bigger operation that Carona says will triple the number of inmates.
Mayor Beth Krom told me she already has heard from some of them, who view the county’s announcement as a bitter pill. “There are some issues in this matter that are not being addressed,” Krom went on. The mayor said she’s pretty much in the dark about the expansion, noting, “They have not provided us with details.”
There may be no reason yet for nearby homeowners to put their properties on the market since the county has no money for the project, hoping the state will launch a bond issue to pay for it. Still, Carona is planning to hire an architect to develop preliminary blueprints, but construction is several yeas away.
It’s ironic that some U.S. towns beg for new jails to boost their faltering economy while other communities strive to keep them out. The difference, of course, is that affluent cities like Irvine can get along very well without prisons, thank you. Still, one could argue that building more cells cuts down on forced early releases, which put more bad guys on the street.
I can hear someone now saying “That’s easy enough for you to say, Stein. You don’t have to live near a prison.” True enough. Hemmed in as our neighborhood is by a freeway, high school, shopping centers and other housing developments, there isn’t room for a horse stable much less a penitentiary housing 1,256 inmates.
Nevertheless, I can empathize with the residents near the Great Park site, which abuts Musick. Some years ago, my wife and I bought a new home in Palo Alto, about 100 yards from a railroad line. We saw the tracks during our walk-through of the house but, unfortunately, did not linger long enough to hear the trains go by. Within two weeks, we were sleepless and half-crazed by their noise.
We went to the builder’s office in town, told one his reps we were going loony and wanted out the deal, probably giving him the best laugh he had had all month. The meeting wound up with him figuratively patting us on the head and assuring us we would get used to the “annoyance” as other buyers had. He was right. A month later, we were not aware of the trains, even with the patio door open. We simply didn’t hear them anymore.
Of course, a railway does not pose the same problem as a prison, but I’m almost sure most homeowners near Musick have learned to live with it. On the other hand, a project that would add 2,000 more prisoners is nothing for them to cheer about, whatever the public benefit.
Stein can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org