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Blackboard, using the link under Course Content.GOLDEN GULAG
AMERICAN CROSSROADS
EDITED BY EARL LEWIS, GEORGE LIPSITZ, PEGGY PASCOE, GEORGE SÁNCHEZ,
AND DANA TAKAGI
GOLDEN GULAG
PRISONS, SURPLUS, CRISIS, AND OPPOSITION IN GLOBALIZING CALIFORNIA
RUTH WILSON GILMORE
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
B E R KE LEY
LOS ANG E LES
LON DON
University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world
by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit www.ucpress.edu.
University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California
University of California Press, Ltd.
London, England
© 2007 by
The Regents of the University of California
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gilmore, Ruth Wilson, 1950–.
Golden gulag : prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in
globalizing California / Ruth Wilson Gilmore.
p.
cm—(American crossroads ; 21).
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn-13: 978-0-520-22256-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn-10: 0-520-22256-3 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn-13: 978-0-520-24201-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)
isbn-10: 0-520-24201-7 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Prisons—California. 2. Prisons—Economic
aspects—California. 3. Imprisonment—California.
4. Criminal justice, Administration of—California.
5. Discrimination in criminal justice administration—California.
6. Minorities—California. 7. California—Economic conditions.
I. Title. II. Series.
HV9475.C2G73 2007
365′.9794—dc22
2006011674
Manufactured in the United States of America
15 14 13 12
11 10 9 8 7 6 5
This book is printed on New Leaf EcoBook 60, containing 60%
postconsumer waste, processed chlorine free; 30% de-inked recycled
fiber, elemental chlorine free; and 10% FSC-certified virgin fiber, totally chlorine free. EcoBook 60 is acid free and meets the minimum
requirements of ansi/astm d 5634–01 (Permanence of Paper).1
FOR MY MOTHER, RUTH ISABEL HERB WILSON
AND IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY FATHER, COURTLAND SEYMOUR WILSON
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CONTENTS
List of Illustrations / i x
List of Tables / x i
Acknowledgments / x i i i
List of Abbreviations / x x i
prologue: The Bus / 1
1. Introduction / 5
2. The California Political Economy / 3 0
3. The Prison Fix / 87
4. Crime, Croplands, and Capitalism / 1 2 8
5. Mothers Reclaiming Our Children / 1 8 1
6. What Is to Be Done? / 2 4 1
epilogue: Another Bus / 2 4 9
Notes / 2 5 3
Bibliography and References / 2 8 1
Index / 3 5 5
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ILLUSTRATIONS
FIGURES
1. California crime index, 1952–1995 / 8
2. Revised California crime index, 1952–2000 / 9
3. Defense prime contracts and manufacturing jobs,
1972–1992 / 4 4
4. Population growth by region, 1980–1990 / 47
5. Growth in the ratio of property/proprietors’ (profit) income
to total income, 1977–1996 / 5 9
6. Rise in interest income as a percentage of property/proprietors’ income and decline in the prime rate, 1980–1989 / 6 1
7. California farmland and irrigated land, in millions of acres,
1945–1987 / 6 6
8. Votes cast for governor and general fund expenditures,
1978–1994 / 8 5
MAP
California state adult prisons / 1 0
ix
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TABLES
1. Employees in Principal California Manufacturing Industries, 1980–1995 / 5 1
2. California Population, Labor Force, Jobs, Unemployment,
and Prisoners, 1973–2000 / 73
3. Three Waves of Structural Change in Sources of California
Tax Revenues, 1967–1989 / 8 2
4. CDC Prisoner Population by Race/Ethnicity / 1 1 1
5. CDC Commitments by Controlling Offense / 1 1 2
6. Mechanization of Cotton Production, 1940–1980 / 1 4 1
7. Overview of Kings County Agriculture, 1982–1992 / 1 4 4
8. Annual Change in Corcoran Housing Stock and Vacancy
Rate, Selected Years / 1 5 9
xi
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Golden Gulag is a late first book—late in my life, late to the press,
and so late in the twentieth century that it appears well into the
twenty-first. In some ways, the contents are old news, but alas not
old enough to have become mere bad memories or the stuff of
history to learn from. Over the years, as I’ve wrestled with the
questions and evidence that shape the book, I’ve had so much
help from so many people that this section of the volume should,
by rights, be longer than any chapter and contain far more entries
than the bibliography. However, well into my second halfcentury on this troubled planet, I’m as forgetful as I am indebted—and hopeful that if you don’t find your name here,
you’ll forgive the oversight. And may all, named or not, excuse
the errors.
Poor Neil Smith. As Geography Department chair at Rutgers,
he generously accepted a cranky middle-aged activist packing a
couple of drama degrees and a headful of social theory to be his
Ph.D. student and got plenty of drama in return. He also made
me think systematically about society and space, accepted my for-
xiii
xiv
AC K N OW LE D G M E N TS
mulation for what happened, why, and to what end—and then
made me prove it to him, revision after revision, in my dissertation. We fought a lot. We also celebrated often, and I’m grateful
to Neil and to Cindi Katz for embracing both Gilmores the moment we arrived at New Brunswick, for wining and dining and
throwing parties for us for four years, and making me a scholaractivist.
At Rutgers, Professors Leela Fernandes, Dorothy Sue Cobble,
Bob Lake, Ann Markusen, Susan Fainstein, John Gillis, and
Caridad Souza taught me to work across disciplines; Leela, in
particular, models the analytical courage interdisciplinarity demands. I hope Susan will accept this book in lieu of the paper I
owe her.
When I headed off to Rutgers, my Los Angeles compañeras—
especially Theresa Allison, Geri Silva, Pauline Milner, and
Donna Warren—in Mothers Reclaiming Our Children wished
me well, and they always welcomed me back to the fold—expecting me always to bring useful knowledge and help make
their knowledge useful.
A coalition sparked by Mothers ROC and Families to Amend
California’s Three Strikes (FACTS) expanded statewide thanks
to the relentless energy of Geri Silva, Gail Blackwell, Barbara
Brooks, Sue Rheams, Claudia Marriott, Julia Gonzales, Mary
Avanti, Doug Kieso, Dennis Duncan, Carmen Ewell, and
Christy Johnson, among many other tireless people.
My capacity to think theoretically, but speak practically, I owe
to the stern sisterly tutelage of my Wages for Housework mentors, Margaret Prescod and Selma James.
Without Mike Davis there would be no Golden Gulag. He
shared ideas, research, and resources, pointed me toward Moth-
AC K N OW LE D G M E N TS
xv
ers ROC and Corcoran, asked plenty of great questions, read the
manuscript thoroughly, and also showed me the practical connections between analytical, political, and pedagogical creativity.
Years ago, when neither of us had a proper job, we shook our
graying heads in dismay at a future of endless adjuncting. Now
we both have steady jobs; who knew?
George Lipsitz, Dave Roediger, Robin D. G. Kelley, Don
Mitchell, Beth Richie, Ed Soja, Audrey Kobayashi, Andrea
Smith, Lauren Berlant, Lakshman Yapa, Cindi Katz, Greg
Hooks, Amy Kaplan, George Sánchez, Chris Newfield, Fred
Moten, Devra Weber, Barbara Christian, Bruce Franklin, Angela Y. Davis, Wendy Brown, Cathy Cohen, Judith Butler, Wahneema Lubiano, Steve Martinot, Joy James, Linda Evans, Cheryl
Harris, Joan Dayan, Mike Merrill, Paul Gilroy, Vron Ware,
Peter Linebaugh, Bobby Wilson, Cedric Robinson, Elizabeth
Robinson, Agnes Moreland Jackson, Sue E. Houchins, Deborah
Santana (who set me straight on my working title “Sunshine
Gulag” and suggested “Golden,” lest anyone think the book was
about Florida), and, more than anyone, A. Sivanandan and Stuart Hall indelibly influenced how I think: each fiercely demonstrates how learning well is a generous art.
During graduate school, we students—Laura Liu, Rachel
Herzing, John Antranig Kasbarian, Curtis Frietag, Melina Patterson, Lisa Lynch, Alex Weheliye (who made me think about
land!), Yong-Sook Lee, Marlen Llanes, Nicole Cousino, and
Ralph Saunders—formed communities of purpose that still bind
us in our commitment to live the change.
I’d never have spent a minute, much less six years, at Berkeley were it not for the interventions, encouragement, friendship,
and mentoring of Dick Walker, Gill Hart, and Carol Stack. I also
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AC K N OW LE D G M E N TS
had the fortune to share work-in-progress with amazing colleagues—Jean Lave, Pedro Noguera, Dan Perlstein, Barrie
Thorne, Harley Shaiken, Allan Pred, Evelyn Nakano Glenn,
Elaine Kim, Michael Omi, Pat Hilden, José David Saldívar, Jeff
Romm, John Hurst, Caren Kaplan, and my dearest Cal pal Kurt
Cuffey. Delores Dillard, Jahleezah Eskew, Nat Vonnegut, Carol
Page, and Dan Plumlee made life easy for the bureaucratically
challenged and, along with Don Bain and Darin Jensen, prove
that staff are the backbone and conscience of academia.
The students of Carceral Geographies at Berkeley dutifully
studied the manuscript and, integrating their readings with ambitious fieldwork, concluded every fall semester with group research projects full of excellent evidence and surprising insights.
The embarrassment of riches of wonderful Berkeley graduate
students who inspired and challenged me around many a seminar table include Clem Lai, Dylan Rodriguez, Frank Wilderson,
Micia Mosely, Judith Kafka, Sora Han, Sara Clarke Kaplan,
Mark Hunter, Priya Kandaswamy, Nari Rhee, Jenna Loyd,
Ethan Johnson, Chris Neidt, Wendy Cheng, Kysa Nygreen,
Juan DeLara, Judy Han, Trevor Paglen, Jen Casolo, Brinda
Sarathy, Joe Bryan, Sylvia Chan, Amanda LaShaw, Kiko
Casique, and Kirstie Dorr.
With patience, brilliance, and skill, four research assistants—
Nari Rhee, Dana Kaplan, Ari Wohlfeiler, Pete Spannagle—
moved the work forward.
Many exemplary people made research possible, especially the
research librarians at Alexander Library at Rutgers and the University Research Library at UCLA. Two print journalists, Dan
Morain of the Los Angeles Times, and Jeannette Todd of the Corcoran Journal, gave me time and insights; Morain’s exemplary
AC K N OW LE D G M E N TS
xvii
work on California prisons is a starting point for any serious student of the subject, as is the investigative reporting by Mark Arax
and Mark Gladstone. Public servants Don Pauley of Corcoran,
Melissa Harriman of Avenal, Ed Tewes of Modesto, and Bernie
Orozco of the now defunct Joint Legislative Committee on
Prison Construction and Operation provided crucial guidance
without hesitation. Paula Burbach at the California Department
of Corrections cheerfully responded to inquiries.
Some of the research for this book received support from a
Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture graduate fellowship; a Ford dissertation fellowship; a University of
California at Berkeley chancellor’s postdoctoral fellowship; and
fellowships from the University of California Humanities Research Institute and the Open Society Institute.
At the University of California Humanities Research Institute, Angela Y. Davis, Gina Dent, David Theo Goldberg, Sandra
Baringer, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and Avery Gordon engaged
in spirited collaborative study and fieldwork; we have a book to
make from that experience.
American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern
California is a dream job. I am especially grateful to George
Sánchez, Laura Pulido, and Fred Moten for friendship and mentoring, to all my colleagues for their trust, and to Sonia Rodriguez, Kitty Lai, and Sandra Jones—along with Billie Shotlow
and Onita Morgan-Edwards in Geography—for their skillful
and good-humored staffing.
I’ve shared parts of this work with many scholars whose sharp
insights rapidly improved my thinking, thanks to the support of
sponsoring institutions: the National University of Singapore,
University of Washington, University of Chicago, the University
xviii
AC K N OW LE D G M E N TS
of Texas at Austin, Johns Hopkins, the Claremont Colleges,
Scripps College, Queens University (CAN), UC Irvine, the Society for Cultural Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, the
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, New York University, City University of New
York, UCLA, the Brecht Forum, Brown, and Yale.
And then there’s the generosity of activists—a constant caring
regard for doing things both right and well. The principal organizations I work in and depend on are the California Prison
Moratorium Project, Critical Resistance, and the Central California Environmental Justice Network. In these and other
groups, many thanks to Tom Quinn, Catherine Campbell, the
late Holbrook Teter, Michelle Foy, Sarah Jarmon, Ellen Barry,
Bo Brown, Karen Shain, Peter Wagner, Brigette Sarabi, Tracy
Huling, Kevin Pranis, Dorsey Nunn, Eddie Ellis, Naomi Swinton, Joe Kaye, Ajulo Othow, Naneen Karraker, Laura Magnani,
Jason Ziedenberg, Deborah Peterson Small, Jonathan Wilson,
Lois Ahrens, John Mataka, Rosenda Mataka, Sandra Meraz,
Yedithza Vianey Nuñez, Joe Morales, Luke Cole, Bradley
Angel, Jason Glick, Amy Vanderwarker, Lani Riccobuono, Debbie Reyes, Leonel Flores, Dana Kaplan, Ari Wohlfeiler, Rachel
Herzing, and the activist’s activist Rose Braz.
At the University of California Press, Linda Norton and
Monica McCormick did everything possible to move this book
into print . . . and Niels Hooper did the impossible. Suzanne
Knott and Peter Dreyer are patient and thorough editors who
taught me a lot about writing to be read.
My brothers, Courtland, Peter, and Jon, and their families,
have waited impatiently, as have my friends who are so close as
to be fictive kin: Howard Singerman, Janet Ray, Brackette
AC K N OW LE D G M E N TS
xix
Williams, Allen Feldman, Barbara Harlow, Sid Lemelle, Salima
Lemelle, Salim Lemelle, the late and always missed Glen
Thompson, Rachel Herzing, Avery Gordon, Chris Newfield,
Laura Liu, Clyde Woods, Mike Murashige, Laura Pulido, Julia
Gonzales, Annie Blum, and Rose Braz helped me develop my capacities, while demanding, singly and in chorus: “Write it down!
Send it in!”
My great regret is that my late father, Courtland Seymour
Wilson, tireless activist, self-educated working-class intellectual,
honest man, won’t have this book on his towering stack of things
to read next; he and my beautiful mother, Ruth Isabel Herb Wilson, sent me out young to do antiracist work, let me be a reader
and dreamer, and always welcomed their prodigal daughter
home. Finally, my husband and best friend, Craig Gilmore,
should be listed as co-author of this book; so much of the thinking, and more than half the suffering of it, was his.
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ABBREVIATIONS
AICCU
BJS
BPP
BRC
CCPOA
CDC
CDF
CDF-CEI
CEZ
CO
DOD
EDD
ERC
xxi
Association of Independent California Colleges
and Universities
Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics
Black Panther Party
California Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate
Population and Management
California Correctional Peace Officers Association
California Department of Corrections
California Department of Finance
California Department of Finance, California
Economic Indicators
California enterprise zone
corrections officer; prison guard
Department of Defense
California Employment Development Department
Equal Rights Congress
xxii
A B B R E V I AT I O N S
FACTS
FIRE
GOB
GSP
JfJ
JLCPCO
LAO
LAPD
LRB
LULUs
MAPA
Mothers ROC
NAIRU
NIMBY
PIA
PRCC
ROC
SPWB
UFW
Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes
finance, insurance, and real estate sector
general obligation bond
gross state product
Justice for Janitors
Joint Legislative Committee on Prison Construction and Operations
California Legislative Analyst’s Office
Los Angeles Police Department
lease revenue bond
locally unwanted land uses
Mexican American Political Alliance
Mothers Reclaiming Our Children
non-accelerating-inflation rate of unemployment
not in my back yard
[California] Prison Industry Authority
[California] Prison Reform Conference Committee
Mothers Reclaiming Our Children
California State Public Works Board
United Farm Workers
PROLOGUE
THE BUS
O
ne midnight in the middle of April, late in the twentieth
century, a bus pulled out of the Holman Methodist Church
parking lot. Traveling a short way along the northern
boundary of South Central Los Angeles, it geared up a
ramp into the web of state and federal highways that connect California’s diverse industrial, agricultural, and recreational
landscapes into the fifth-largest economy in the world. On the
bus, forty women, men, and children settled in for the seven-hour
journey north to Sacramento and the state capitol.
A dream crowd rode for freedom: red, black, brown, yellow,
and white; mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, children, lovers, and friends; gay men and lesbians; interracial families; English, Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, Polish, and Hebrew
speakers; Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox,
and Quaker. Their diversity embodied some 150 years of California history and more than 300 years of national anxieties and
antagonisms. But the riders didn’t worry about it; they got on the
1
2
P R O LO G U E
bus because of their sameness: employed, disabled, or retired
working people, with little or no discretionary income, whose
goal was freedom for their relatives serving long sentences behind bars.
The dream riders were summoned by a nightmare, made palpable by the terrifying numbers of prisoners and prisons produced during the past generation, while we were all, presumably,
awake. Just as real was the growing grassroots activism against
the expanded use of criminalization and cages as catchall solutions to social problems.
In order to realize their dream of justice in individual cases,
the riders decided, through struggle, debate, failure, and renewal, that they must seek general freedom for all from a system
in which punishment has become as industrialized as making
cars, clothes, or missiles, or growing cotton. Against the odds,
they had come to activism—acting out, in the details of modest
practices, the belief that “we shall overcome” the deep divisions
so taken for granted in apartheid America. In other words, they
shared more than an interest: purpose made them ride.
Some snoozed. Some played cards. Some talked about who
would join them on the statehouse steps, who would sit with
them in the Senate Committee on Public Safety hearing room,
and what best strategy would persuade a prisoner-hostile legislative committee majority to amend California’s “three strikes
and you’re out” law. Some watched through the window, with an
intensity suggesting that the night might reveal an answer. Instead, what they saw were landscapes of labor, living, and leisure
stretching out beyond the horizon. Leaving Los Angeles, the bus
traveled up the broad old industrial corridor’s central artery. Although the city is still the manufacturing capital of the United
TH E B US
3
States, the mix and remuneration of jobs making things has
changed drastically in the past twenty years. Auto and primary
steel are mostly gone, replaced by apparel and rebar.
On Interstate 5, the great road over the Tehachapi Mountains,
the bus passed endless residential developments and signs touting “business friendly” regions in the northern reaches of Los
Angeles County before slipping into the darkness of the Angeles
National Forest. The federal interstates enabled suburbanization
of both residence and industry and helped secure California’s historical dominance in the military-industrial complex. Indeed, for
most of the families on the bus, overt wars—World War II,
Korea, and Vietnam—and covert struggles—Jim Crow Mississippi and Louisiana—were the forces that had pushed and
pulled them to Southern California to remake their lives, as
long-distance migrants must.
Rolling down the long grade into the Great Central Valley,
some of the riders speculated about the gargantuan pumping stations that propel water gathered from the state’s northern and eastern regions over the mountains to quench the Southland’s thirst.
And yet although the water courses up out of the valley, a lot remains to irrigate the state’s agricultural immensity. Indeed, while
agriculture is only 3 percent of gross state product (GSP), California ranks first in the United States in agricultural production.
They stopped in Bakersfield to pick up more people: a farmworker, an unemployed journalist, some prisoners’ mothers taking an unpaid day off work and contributing from their slim
wages toward the $1,000 charter cost.
Outside Bakersfield, darkness drew in again around the
Thomas-built coach. A small group of riders, sitting in the back,
started to count sightings of intensely golden glows that eerily
4
P R O LO G U E
poked depth into the flat blackness. These concentrations of
light in farmland are many of California’s new prisons: cities of
men, and sometimes women, that lie next to the dim towns that
host them. Some passengers whispered, their words recorded as
breath on glass: “Donny’s over there.” “Hello Richard.” “I wonder if Angel’s sleeping. I told him we’d pass by.” The small fogs
cleared as the bus labored on.
Other buses make this journey every day from central Los Angeles, leaving not from churches but rather from courts and jails.
Their destinations are the old or new prisons—those that cluster
along Highway 99 and make it a prison alley and others further
afield, from the sturdy perimeter of fortresses along the
California-Mexico border in the south up into Indian country at
Susanville and Crescent City at the Oregon line. Nine hundred
miles of prisons: an archipelago of concrete and steel cages, thirtythree major prisons (see map on page 10) plus fifty-seven smaller
prisons and camps, forty-three of the total built since 1984.
Arriving in Sacramento, the riders joined their allies from
other parts of the state for a prayer breakfast and a rally on the
capitol steps. Then the day’s principal activity began: the long
committee session. They would try again to persuade people
eager for reelection, who review and approve new criminal laws
three hours a week, every week, to undo part of one law even
while a major campaign contributor, the prison guards’ union,
summoned its lobbyist brigades to denounce any reform. For a
moment before the group moved indoors, the ordinarily graywhite state buildings yellowed to reflect the warming sunrise—a
sensation welcomed by a few aching elderly passengers, always
alert for signs for hope. Perhaps on this trip they might knock one
block out of the Golden Gulag’s miles and miles of prison walls.
ONE
INTRODUCTION
THE PROBLEM
T
his book is about the phenomenal growth of California’s
state prison system since 1982 and grassroots opposition to
the expanding use of prisons as catchall solutions to social
problems. It asks how, why, where, and to what effect one
of the planet’s richest and most diverse political economies
has organized and executed a prison-building and -filling plan
that government analysts have called “the biggest . . . in the history of the world” (Rudman and Berthelsen 1991: i). By providing answers to these questions, the book also charts changes in
state structure, local and regional economies, and social identities. Golden Gulag is a tale of fractured collectivities—economies,
governments, cities, communities, and households—and their
fitful attempts to reconstruct themselves.
The book began as two modest research projects undertaken
in Los Angeles in 1992 and 1994 on behalf of a group of mostly
African American mothers, many of whom later rode the bus depicted in the Prologue. All wished to understand both the letter
5
6
I N T R O D U CT I O N
and intent of two California laws—the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act (1988) and Proposition
184, the “three strikes and you’re out” law (1994). They asked
me, a nonlawyer activist with research skills, access to university
libraries, and a big vocabulary, to help them. The oral reports and
written summaries I presented at Saturday workshops failed to
produce what we hoped for: clues as to how individual defendants might achieve better outcomes in their cases. Rather, what
we learned twice over was this: the laws had written into the
penal code breathtakingly cruel twists in the meaning and practice of justice.
Why should such discoveries surprise people for whom
racism and economic struggle are persistent, life-shortening aspects of everyday experience? Perhaps because, for an increasing
number of people, by the early 1990s, everyday experience had
come to include familiarity with the routines of police, arrests,
lawyers, plea bargains, and trials. The repertoire of the criminal
courts seemed to be consistent if consistently unfair, with everyone playing rather predictable roles and the devil (or acquittal) in
the details. But instead of showing how to become more detailsavvy about a couple of laws, our group study shifted our perspective by forcing us to ask general—and therefore, to our general frustration, more abstract—questions: Why prisons? Why
now? Why for so many people—especially people of color? And
why were they located so far from prisoners’ homes?
The complex inquiry we inadvertently set for ourselves eventually defined the scope of this book, whose tale unfolds four
times: statewide; at the capitol; in rural Corcoran; and in South
Central Los Angeles. Working through California’s prison development from these various “cuts” will uncover the dynamics of
I N T R O D U CT I O N
7
the social and spatial intersections where expansion emerged.
There’s a political reason for doing things this way. It is not only a
good theory in theory but also a good theory in practice for people
engaged in the spectrum of social justice struggles to figure out
unexpected sites where their agendas align with those of others.
We can do this by seeing how general changes connect with concrete experiences—as the mothers did in our study groups.
The California state prisoner population grew nearly 500 percent
between 1982 and 2000, even though the crime rate peaked in
1980 and declined, unevenly but decisively, thereafter (see figs. 1
and 2). African Americans and Latinos comprise two-thirds of
the state’s 160,000 prisoners; almost 7 percent are women of all
races; 25 percent are noncitizens. Most prisoners come from the
state’s urban cores—particularly Los Angeles and the surrounding southern counties. More than half the prisoners had steady
employment before arrest, while upwards of 80 percent were, at
some time in their case, represented by state-appointed lawyers
for the indigent. In short, as a class, convicts are deindustrialized
cities’ working or workless poor.
Since 1984, California has completed twenty-three major new
prisons (see map), at a cost of $280–$350 million dollars apiece.
The state had previously built only twelve prisons between 1852
and 1964. The gargantuan new poured-concrete structures loom
at the edge of small, economically struggling, ethnically diverse
towns in rural areas. California has also added, in similar locations, thirteen small (500-bed) community corrections facilities,
five prison camps, and five mother-prisoner centers to its pre-1984
inventory. By 2005, a hotly contested twenty-fourth new prison,
designed to cage 5,160 men will, if opened, bring the total num-
8
I N T R O D U CT I O N
FIGURE 1. California crime index by category, 1952–1995. Source: Cali-
fornia Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Information Services
Division.
ber of state lockups for adult men and women to ninety.1 With the
exception of a few privately managed 500-bed facilities, these prisons are wholly public: owned by the state of California, financed
by Public Works Board debt, and operated by the California Department of Corrections. The state’s general fund provides 100
percent of the entire prison system’s annual costs. Expenses spiked
from 2 percent of the general fund in 1982 to nearly 8 percent
5,000
Rate
4,000
3,000
2,000
1,000
0
52 54 56 58 60 62 64 66 68 70 72 74 76 78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96 98 00
Year
Crime index, revised formula
Crime index, original formula
Property crimes, revised formula
Property crimes, original formula
Violent crimes
FIGURE 2. Revised California crime index, 1952–2000. Source: California Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Information Services Division. Note: Throughout its development, this book used the nationally
accepted method for measuring crime, as illustrated by figure 1, which
shows the state attorney general’s 1995 California crime index. In 2003,
“to give a more representative depiction of crime in California,” a different California attorney general added “larceny-theft over $400” to
the California crime index, retroactive to 1983. Whatever the latter’s
motivations, the effect as shown above has been to muddy the waters
concerning when the crime rate began to decline in California and, as
a consequence, what role increasing the numbers of prisons and people
locked up in them has played. Subsequent to this revision, the “California Crime Index has been temporarily suspended as efforts continue
to redefine this measurement.” Data and quotations from Crimes,
1952–2003, table 1, Criminal Justice Statistics Center, Office of the Attorney General, http://caag.state.ca.us/cjsc/publications/candd/cd03/
tabs/ (January 23, 2005).
10
I N T R O D U CT I O N
Crescent
City
Prisons
Community corrections facilities
Camps
Mother-prisoner facilities
Cities
State capital
Map does not include county
or city jails, ICE detention centers,
state or county juvenile facilities,
or federal prisons.
Susanville
Vacaville
Sacramento
San Quentin
San Francisco
Folsom
Ione
Tracy
Jamestown
Chowchilla
Fresno
Farmersville
Coalinga
Soledad
Corcoran
Avenal Delano
Wasco
San Luis Obispo
Bakersfield
Tehachapi
Lancaster
Chino
Los Angeles
0
50
100 mi
Norco
Corona
Blythe
Calipatria
San Diego El Centro
California state adult prisons. Adapted from a map by Craig Gilmore.
today. The Department of Corrections has become the largest
state agency, employing a heterogeneous workforce of 54,000.
These alarming facts raise many urgent issues involving
money, income, jobs, race and ethnicity, gender, lawmaking, state
agencies and the policies that propel them to act, rural communities, urban neighborhoods, uneven development, migration and
globalization, hope, and despair. Such breadth belies the common
I N T R O D U CT I O N
11
view that prisons sit on the edge—at the margins of social spaces,
economic regions, political territories, and fights for rights. This
apparent marginality is a trick of perspective, because, as every geographer knows, edges are also interfaces. For example, even
while borders highlight the distinction between places, they also
connect places into relationships with each other and with noncontiguous places. So too with prisons: the government-organized
and -funded dispersal of marginalized people from urban to rural
locations suggests both that problems stretch across space in a connected way and that arenas for activism are less segregated than
they seem. Viewed in this way, we can see how “prison” is actually
in the middle of the muddle that confronts all modestly educated
working people and their extended communities—the global
supermajority—at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
WHAT IS PRISON SUPPOSED TO DO AND WHY?
The practice of putting people in cages for part or all of their lives
is a central feature in the development of secular states, participatory democracy, individual rights, and contemporary notions
of freedom. These institutions of modernity, shaped by the rapid
growth of cities and industrial production, faced a challenge—
most acutely where capitalism flourished unfettered—to produce stability from “the accumulation and useful administration”
of people on the move in a “society of strangers” (Foucault 1977:
303). Prisons both depersonalized social control, so that it could
be bureaucratically managed across time and space, and satisfied
the demands of reformers who largely prevailed against bodily
punishment, which nevertheless endures in the death penalty
and many torturous conditions of confinement. Oddly enough,
12
I N T R O D U CT I O N
then, the rise of prisons is coupled with two major upheavals—
the rise of the word freedom to stand in for what’s desirable and
the rise of civic activists to stand up for who’s dispossessed.
The relationship of prison to dispossession has been well studied. Wedged between ethics and the law, the justification for
putting people behind bars rests on the premise that as a consequence of certain actions, some people should lose all freedom
(which we can define in this instance as control over one’s bodily
habits, pastimes, relationships, and mobility). It takes muscular
political capacity to realize widescale dispossession of people who
have formal rights, and historically those who fill prisons have
collectively lacked political clout commensurate with the theoretical power that rights suggest (see, e.g., Dayan 1999). In contrast, during most of the modern history of prisons, those officially
devoid of rights—indigenous and enslaved women and men, for
example, or new immigrants, or married white women—rarely
saw the inside of a cage, because their unfreedom was guaranteed
by other means (Christianson 1998; E. B. Freedman 1996).
But what about crime? Doesn’t prison exist because there are
criminals? Yes and no. While common sense suggests a natural
connection between “crime” and “prison,” what counts as crime
in fact changes, and what happens to people convicted of crimes
does not, in all times and places, result in prison sentences. Defined in the simple terms of the secular state, crime means a violation of the law. Laws change, depending on what, in a social
order, counts as stability, and who, in a social order, needs to be
controlled. Let’s look at a range of examples. After the Civil War,
an onslaught of legal maneuvers designed to guarantee the cheap
availability of southern Black people’s labor outlawed both
“moving around” and “standing still” (Franklin 1998), and con-
I N T R O D U CT I O N
13
victs worked without choice or compensation to build the region’s infrastructure and industrial system (A. Lichtenstein 1996;
B. M. Wilson 2000a). From the 1890s onward, a rush of Jim Crow
laws both fed on earlier labor-focused statutes and sparked the
nationwide apartheid craze. The Eighteenth Amendment to the
Constitution (1919) prohibited the manufacture, import, export,
or sale of intoxicating liquors, at a time when most drugs that are
now illegal were not (Lusane 1991). In Texas, driving while
drinking alcohol is legal, whereas a marijuana seed can put a person in prison for life. Prostitution is legal in some places. In others, the remedy for theft is restitution, not a cage. Murder is the
result of opportunity, motive, and means, and the fact of a killing
begins rather than ends an inquiry into the shifting legal nature
of such a loss. Numerous histories and criminological treatises
show shifts over time in what crime is and why it matters (see,
e.g., Linebaugh 1992; Christianson 1998). Contemporary comparative studies demonstrate how societies that are relatively
similar—industrialized, diverse, largely immigrant—differ
widely in their assessments and experience of disorderly behavior and the remedies for what’s generally accepted as wrong
(Archer and Gartner 1984). As we can see that crime is not fixed,
it follows that crime’s relationship to prisons is the outcome of social theory and practice, rather than the only possible source of
stability through control.
How are prisons supposed to produce stability through controlling what counts as crime? Four theories condense two and a
quarter centuries of experience into conflicting and generally
overlapping explanations for why societies decide they should
lock people out by locking them in. Each theory, which has its intellectuals, practitioners, and critics, turns on one of four key con-
14
I N T R O D U CT I O N
cepts: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, or incapacitation.
Let’s take them in turn. The shock of retribution—loss of liberty—supposedly keeps convicted persons from doing again,
upon release, what sent them to prison. Retribution’s specter, deterrence, allegedly dissuades people who can project themselves
into a convicted person’s jumpsuit from doing what might result
in lost liberty. Rehabilitation proposes that the unfreedom of
prisons provides an occasion for the acquisition of sobriety and
skills, so that, on release, formerly incarcerated people can live
lives away from the criminal dragnet. And, finally, incapacitation, the least ambitious of all these theories, simply calculates
that those locked up cannot make trouble outside of prison.
These theories relate to each other as reforms—not as steps away
from brutality or inconsistency, but as attempts to make prisons
produce social stability through applying some mix of care, indifference, compulsory training, and cruelty to people in cages.
If the fourth concept, incapacitation, is not ambitious in a behavioral or psychological sense, it is, ironically, the theory that
undergirds the most ambitious prison-building project in the history of the world. Incapacitation doesn’t pretend to change anything about people except where they are. It is in a simpleminded way, then, a geographical solution that purports to solve
social problems by extensively and repeatedly removing people
from disordered, deindustrialized milieus and depositing them
somewhere else.
But does the absence of freedom for many ensure stability in
the form of lower-crime communities, and idled courts and police officers, for others? We can hazard a quick guess by asking
a different question: would the prevailing theories shift and
mingle over time, persistently reforming reformed reforms, if
I N T R O D U CT I O N
15
the outcome were stability? Probably not. And now there’s more
to be said on the subject, since we can count and compare outcomes. State by state, those jurisdictions that have not built a lot
of prisons and thrown more people into them have enjoyed
greater decreases in crime than states where incapacitation became a central governmental activity. For the latter, there are
similar patterns of contrariness: within California, counties that
aggressively use mandatory sentencing, such as the notoriously
harsh “three strikes” law, have experienced feebler decreases in
crime than counties that use the law sparingly.
Here we must briefly digress and reflect further on prison demographics, in particular, their exclusive domination of working
or workless poor, most of whom are not white. Since it has never
before been so easy for people of color to get into prison (jail is another matter [Irwin 1985]), we have to ask how racism works to
lock in both them and more poor white people as well. To what
degree has the regular observer, of any race, learned both willfully and unconsciously to conclude that the actual people who
go to prison are the same as those the abolitionist Ruth Morris
called the “terrible few.” The “terrible few” are a statistically insignificant and socially unpredictable handful of the planet’s humans whose psychopathic actions are the stuff of folktales,
tabloids (including the evening news and reality television), and
emergency legislation. When it comes to crime and prisons, the
few whose difference might horribly erupt stand in for the many
whose difference is emblazoned on surfaces of skin, documents,
and maps—color, credo, citizenship, communities, convictions.
The paroxysmal thinking required to make such a substitution
is the outcome of many prods and barbs, in which aggression, violence, order, and duty conflate into an alleged force of Ameri-
16
I N T R O D U CT I O N
can “human nature” (Lutz 2001). This thinking reveals the
imaginary relationships people have with neighbors recast as
strangers in a thoroughly racialized and income-stratified political economy that regularly redefines possibilities while never
setting absolute positive or negative limits.
With the vexing question of difference in mind, let’s return to
the problem of spatial unevenness. If places that spare the cage
are calmer than places that use imprisonment more aggressively,
why is this so? Why wouldn’t higher rates of incapacitation produce more stability? As it turns out, if we ratchet our perspective
down to an extremely intimate view and compare, we see that
identical locations—in terms of the social, cultural, and economic characteristics of inhabitants—diverge over time into different qualities of place when one of them experiences high rates
of imprisonment of residents. And, more, the “tipping point,”
when things start to get really bad, is not very deep. Only two or
three need be removed from n to produce greater instability in a
community of people who, when employed, make, move, or care
for things (Clear et al. 2001; Rose and Clear 2002). Why? For one
thing, households stretch from neighborhood to visiting room to
courtroom, with a consequent thinning of financial and emotional resources (Comfort 2002). Looking around the block at all
the homes, research shows that increased use of policing and state
intervention in everyday problems hasten the demise of the informal customary relationships that social calm depends on
(Clear et al. 2001). People stop looking out for each other and stop
talking about anything that matters in terms of neighborly wellbeing. Cages induce or worsen mental illness in prisoners (Haney
2001; Kupers 1999), most of whom eventually come out to
service-starved streets. Laws (such as lifetime bans from financial
I N T R O D U CT I O N
17
aid) and fiscal constraints displacing dollars from social investment to social expense (O’Connor [1973] 2000) lock former prisoners out of education, employment, housing, and many other
stabilizing institutions of everyday life. In such inhospitable
places, everybody isolates. And when something disruptive, confusing, or undesirable happens, people dial 911. As a result, crime
goes up, along with unhappiness, and those who are able to do so
move away in search of a better environment, concentrating unhappiness in their wake. In other words, prisons wear out places
by wearing out people, irrespective of whether they have done
time (Mauer and Chesney-Lind 2002).
This book asks how prison came to be such a widescale solution in late twentieth-century California, in part by looking at the
problem through two extraordinary lenses. It asks what the relationship is between urban and rural political and economic restructuring, and how urban social expense fits into the rural
landscape. It also asks what happens in the urban neighborhoods
prisoners come from when people start talking to each other
again.
THE DOMINANT AND COUNTEREXPLANATIONS
FOR PRISON GROWTH
In its briefest form, the dominant explanation for prison growth
goes like this: crime went up; we cracked down; crime came
down.
Is this true?
The media, government officials, and policy advisers endlessly refer to “the public’s concern” over crime and connect
prison growth to public desire for social order. In this explanation, what is pivotal is not the state’s definition of crime per se but
18
I N T R O D U CT I O N
rather society’s condemnation of rampant deviant behavior—
thus a moral, not (necessarily) legal, panic. The catapulting of
crime to public anxiety number one, even when unemployment
and inflation might have garnered greater worry in the recessions of the early 1980s and the early 1990s, suggests that concerns
about social deviance overshadowed other, possibly more immediate, issues.
However, by the time the great prison roundups began, crime
had started to go down. Mainstream media widely reported the
results of statistics annually gathered and published by the FBI,
the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and state attorneys general.
In other words, if the public had indeed demanded crime reduction, the public was already getting what it wanted. California
officials could have taken credit for decreasing crime rates without producing more than 140,000 new prison beds (more than a
million nationally).
Another explanation for the burgeoning prison population is
the drug epidemic and the presumed threat to public safety
posed by the unrestrained use and trade of illegal substances. Information about the controlling (or most serious) offense of prisoners seems to support the drug explanation: drug commitments
to federal and state prison systems surged 975 percent between
1982 and 1999. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the
widening use of drugs in the late 1970s and early 1980s provoked
prison expansion. According to this scenario—as news stories,
sensational television programs, popular music and movies, and
politicians’ anecdotes made abundantly clear—communities, especially poor communities of color, would be more deeply decimated by addiction, drug dealing, and gang violence were it not
for the restraining force of prisons. The explanation rests on two
I N T R O D U CT I O N
19
assumptions: first, that drug use exploded in the 1980s; and second, that the sometimes violent organization of city neighborhoods into gang enclaves was accomplished in order to secure
drug markets.
In fact, according to the BJS, illegal drug use among all kinds
of people throughout the United States declined drastically starting in the mid 1970s (Tonry 1995). Second, although large-scale
traffic in legal or illegal goods requires highly organized distribution systems—whether corporations or gangs (Winslow
1999)—not all gangs are in drug trafficking. For example, according to Mike Davis (1990), in late 1980s Los Angeles, despite
the availability of stiffer sentences for gang members, prosecutors
charged only one in four dealers with gang membership, and
that pattern continued through the 1990s, despite media reports
to the contrary.
A third explanation blames structural changes in employment
opportunities; these changes have left large numbers of people
challenged to find new income sources, and many have turned to
what one pundit called illegal entitlements. In this view, those
who commit property crimes—along with those who trade in illegal substances—reasonably account for a substantial portion of
the vast increase in prison populations. Controlling offense data
for new prisoners support the income-supplementing explanation: the percentage of people in prison for property offenses has
more than doubled since 1982. But at the same time, incidents of
property crime peaked in 1980; indeed, the drop in property
crime pushed down the overall crime rate.
Throughout the economic boom of the 1990s, both print and
electronic media again headlined annual federal reports about
long-term drops in crime (falling since 1980), and elected and ap-
20
I N T R O D U CT I O N
pointed officials took credit for the trends. In this context, the explanation for bulging prisons centers on the remarkable array of
stiffer mandatory sentences now doled out for a wide range of
behavior that used to be differently punished, if at all. This explanation, tied to but different from the moral panic explanation,
proposes that while social deviance might not have exploded
after all, aggressive intolerance pays handsome political dividends. The explanation that new kinds of sentences—which is to
say the concerted action of lawmakers—rather than crises in the
streets produced the growth in prison is after the fact and begs
the question: Why prisons now?
Indeed, the preceding series of explanations and their underlying weaknesses suggest that the simple relationship between
“crime” and “crackdown” introducing this section should be
tweaked in the interest of historical accuracy. The string of declarative statements more properly reads: “crime went up; crime
came down; we cracked down.” If the order is different, then so
are the causes. Here, of course, is where the prevailing alternative
explanations come in. These views, like the official stories, are
not mutually exclusive.
A key set of arguments charges racial cleansing: prisons grow
in order to get rid of people of color, especially young Black men,
accomplishing the goal through new lawmaking, patterns of
policing, and selective prosecution (see, for examples, Miller
1996; Mauer 1999; Goldberg 2002). These analysts prove their
claims using two decades of numbers showing the “racial disparities” in flesh-and-blood facts of prison expansion, substantial
for white people and off the charts for nearly everybody else.
There’s no doubt what the accumulated experience is. But why
now? Among many who charge racism, folk wisdom, a product
I N T R O D U CT I O N
21
of mixing the Thirteenth Amendment with thin evidence, is that
prison constitutes the new slavery and that the millions in cages
are there to provide cheap labor for corporations looking to
lower stateside production costs.
The problem with the “new slavery” argument is that very
few prisoners work for anybody while they’re locked up. Recall,
the generally accepted goal for prisons has been incapacitation: a
do-nothing theory if ever there was one. There has certainly been
enough time for public and private entities to have worked out
the logistics of exploiting unfree labor, and virtually every state,
including California, has a law requiring prisoners to work. But
the fact that most prisoners are idle, and that those who work do
so for a public agency, undermines the view that today’s prison
expansion is the story of nineteenth-century Alabama writ large
(A. Lichtenstein 1996; B. M. Wilson 2000a). The principal reason
private interests fail to exploit prisoner labor seems to be this: big
firms can afford to set up satellite work areas (what a prisonbased production facility would be), while small firms cannot.
Small firms then fight against big firms over unfair access to
cheap labor and fight as well against publicly owned and operated prison industries (such as the federal system called UNICOR) that, due to low wages (not the same as low labor costs),
unfairly compete in markets selling things modestly educated
people can make and do.
Two other counterexplanations focus on the pursuit of profits.
The first places emphasis on the privatization of public functions.
Although the absolute number of private prisons has indeed
grown, the fact is that 95 percent of all prisons and jails are publicly owned and operated. So the argument that more people are
in prison due to the lobbying efforts of private prison firms doesn’t
22
I N T R O D U CT I O N
stand up to scrutiny. The firms are not insignificant, especially in
some jurisdictions, but they’re not the driving force, either. Despite boosterish claims by stock analysts, private prison firms consistently hover on the brink of disaster (Greene 2001; Matera and
Khan 2001), while public sector unions fight against losing jobs
with good pay and benefits. The final profit-centered explanation
focuses more generally on the potential for pulling surplus cash
out of prisons (Dyer 1999). The question remains as to how these
changes came into effect, given the welter of laws and rules directing the uses of capital for public investments. In other words,
what does the fact that the world has gone capitalist in the past
decade and a half (see, e.g., Parenti 1999) mean; and what are the
conditions under which other possibilities might unfold? In particular, how has the role of the state—at various levels, from
urban growth machine to federal devolution machine—changed
in the attempt to produce stability and growth in the general political economy, especially if equity is no longer on the agenda?
The preceding discussion leads us to the third view, which
holds that there are more people in prison in order for “the state”
to help rural areas hungry for jobs; in this explanation of prison
expansion, prisoners of color presumably provide employment
opportunities for white guards. There’s no question that rural
America has been in the throes of a depression that began
decades ago. In the 1980s and early 1990s, a welter of scholarly
and trade articles (e.g., Carlson 1988, 1992; Sechrest 1992; Shichor 1992) promoted the local development discourse and advised prison agencies and civic boosters how to dispel fears and
thereby disarm the NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude. Such
work reinforced the suspicion that prison expansion is a concrete
manifestation of urban-rural competition and conflict. How-
I N T R O D U CT I O N
23
ever, we now know the fiscal benefits to prison towns are difficult if impossible to locate (Hooks et al. 2003; Farrigan and Glasmeier 2002; R. W. Gilmore 1998; Huling 2002; King et al. 2003).
But where are the new prisons? Are the host communities and
the places prisoners come from so different? What about the demographic continuities between employees and the prisoners
themselves? Indeed, what already existing relationships make a
town eligible for, or vulnerable to, prison siting in the first place?
And why doesn’t investment stick there?
A fourth counterexplanation is one we might call the reform
school. Analysts from a variety of political perspectives examine
more than two centuries of interlocking prison and legal reforms
and ask what role activists of many kinds—such as benevolent
liberals or women fighting domestic and sexual violence—play,
first in normalizing prison and then enabling its perpetually expanding use as an all-purpose remedy for the thwarted rights of
both prisoners and harmed free persons (see, for examples,
Gottschalk 2002; A. Davis 2003; Critical Resistance–INCITE
2002). This view demands consideration of how political identities defined by injury (Brown 1994) and order derived from punishment (Garland 1990, 2002) shape state norms and practices.
Through formal interaction with the state (as girl, student, citizen, immigrant, retiree, worker, owner, so forth), people develop
and modulate their expectations about what the state should do,
and these understandings, promoted or abhorred by media, intellectuals, and others, guide how, and under what conditions,
social fixes come into being. The state makes things, but it is also
a product of what’s made and destroyed—of the constant creation and destruction of things such as schools, hospitals, art museums, nuclear weapons, and prisons. These issues return us to
24
I N T R O D U CT I O N
the question of why the state changes. How do we understand
such change through the development or revision of governmental institutions? Before concluding this introduction to the
problem, let’s look quickly at a key historical moment of the
twentieth century: 1968.
LOOKING BACKWARD TO LOOK FORWARD
The preceding brief review of counterexplanations for prison
growth does not account for the order of things: crime went up;
crime came down; we cracked down. But of course, as every explanation suggests, something big, which proponents of “crime
is the problem; prison is the solution” could be part of, directed
the action. A conspiracy? Not likely. Systemic? Without a doubt.
All the elements are here. Let’s look back for a moment to 1968,
symbolically the year of revolution and counterrevolution, to get
one more take on the picture.
Nineteen sixty-eight was a disorderly year, when revolutionaries around the world made as much trouble as possible in as
many places as possible. Overlapping communities of resistance
self-consciously connected their struggles. Growing opposition
to the U.S. war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia linked up with
anticolonialism and antiapartheid forces on a world scale; and
many found in Black Power a compelling invigoration of historical linkages between “First” and “Third” world liberation, not
unlike the way people today trying to make sense of antiglobalization look to the Zapatistas in Chiapas (see, e.g., Katzenberger
1995). Students and workers built and defended barricades from
Mexico City to Paris, sat down in factories, and walked out of
fields. The more militant anticapitalism and international solidarity became everyday features of U.S. antiracist activism, the
I N T R O D U CT I O N
25
more vehemently the state responded by, as Allen Feldman
(1991) puts it, “individualizing disorder” into singular instances
of criminality.
The years 1967–68 also marked the end of a long run-up in
annual increases in profit, signaling the close of the golden age of
U.S. capitalism. The golden age had started thirty years earlier,
when Washington began the massive buildup for World War II.
The organizational structures and fiscal authority that had been
designed for New Deal social welfare agencies provided the
template for the Pentagon’s painstaking transformation (Gregory. Hooks 1991). It changed from a periodically expanded and
contracted Department of War to the largest and most costly bureaucracy of the federal government. The United States has since
committed enormous resources to the first permanent warfare
apparatus in the country’s pugnacious history.
The wealth produced from warfare spending did two
things: it helped knit the nation’s vast marginal hinterland (the
South and the West) into the national economy by moving vast
quantities of publicly funded construction and development
projects, and people to do the work, to those regions (with California gaining the most) (Schulman 1994). The wealth also underwrote the motley welfare agencies that took form during the
Great Depression but did not become truly operational until
the end of World War II (Gregory Hooks 1991). Indeed, the
U.S. welfare state has been dubbed “military Keynesianism”—
an unpronouncable name but a good thing to know—to denote
the centrality of war-making to socioeconomic security. On the
domestic front, while labor achieved moderate protections
against calamity and opportunities for advancement, worker
militancy was crushed and U.S. hierarchies achieved renewed
26
I N T R O D U CT I O N
structural salience. The hierarchies mapped both the organization of labor markets and the sociospatial control of wealth.
Thus, white people fared well compared with people of color,
most of whom were deliberately, if craftily, excluded from the
original legislation; men received automatically what women
had to apply for individually; and urban industrial workers secured limited wage and bargaining rights denied household
and agricultural fieldworkers.
This quick look at the crumbling foundations of the old order,
which gave way to the possibility of astonishing prison growth,
raises the urgent topics that this book addresses: money, income,
jobs, race and ethnicity, gender, lawmaking, state agencies and
the policies that propel them to act, rural communities, urban
neighborhoods, uneven development, migration and globalization, hope, and despair. Today’s political-economic superstructure is grounded in the radical failures and counterrevolutionary
successes of an earlier era, as exemplified by the antagonism between insurgents and counterinsurgents in 1968.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
How and why, then, did California go about the biggest prisonbuilding project in the history of the world? In my view, prisons
are partial geographical solutions to political economic crises, organized by the state, which is itself in crisis. Crisis means instability that can be fixed only through radical measures, which include developing new relationships and new or renovated
institutions out of what already exists. The instability that characterized the end of the golden age of American capitalism provides a key, as we shall see. In the following pages, we shall investigate how certain kinds of people, land, capital, and state
I N T R O D U CT I O N
27
capacity became idle—what surplus is—what happened, and
why the outcomes are logically explicable but were by no means
inevitable.
A few words about scholar activism, and then our tale begins.
Happily, the Social Science Research Council has taken an interest in what scholar activism is and does, and a group of us are
writing a book about it. For readers of the present book, the key
point is this: the questions and analyses driving this book came
from the work encountered in everyday activism “on the
ground.” However, the direction of research does not necessarily
follow every lead proposed from the grassroots, nor do the findings necessarily reinforce community activists’ closely held
hunches about how the world works. On the contrary, in scholarly research, answers are only as good as the further questions
they provoke, while for activists, answers are as good as the tactics they make possible. Where scholarship and activism overlap
is in the area of how to make decisions about what comes next. As
this project grew from a modest research inquiry into a decade’s
lifework, so too did the need to figure out a guide for action.
We simultaneously make places, things, and selves, although
not under conditions of our own choosing. Problems, then, are
also opportunities. The world does not operate according to an
analytically indefensible opposition that presumes that “agency”
is an exclusive, if underused, attribute of the oppressed in their
endless confrontation with the forces of “structure.” Rather, if
agency is the human ability to craft opportunity from the wherewithal of everyday life, then agency and structure are products of
each other. Without their mutual interaction, there would be no
drama, no dynamic, no story to tell. Actors in all kinds of situations (farms, neighborhoods, government agencies, collapsing
28
I N T R O D U CT I O N
economies, tough elections) are fighting to create stability out of
instability. In a crisis, the old order does not simply blow away,
and every struggle is carried out within, and against, already existing institutions: electoral politics, the international capitalist
system, families, uneven development, racism.
As the example of racism suggests, institutions are sets of hierarchical relationships (structures) that persist across time (Martinot 2003) undergoing, as we have seen in the case of prisons, periodic reform. Racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or
extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated
vulnerability to premature death. States are institutions made up
of subinstitutions that often work at cross-purposes, but that get
direction from the prevailing platforms and priorities of the current government. Capital, the wealth of the profit system’s development ability, is also a relation, since it could not exist if
workers did not produce goods for less than they’re sold for and
buy goods in order to go back to work and make, move, or grow
more stuff. As private property, land is also a relationship—to
nonowners, to other pieces of land, to mortgagers, and to land
that is not privately owned. And the state’s power to organize
these various factors of production, or enable them to be disorganized or abandoned outright, is not a thing but rather a capacity—which is to say, based in relationships that also change over
time and sometimes become so persistently challenged, from
above and below, by those whose opinions and actions matter,
that the entire character of the state eventually changes as well.
This book is about enormous changes and alternative outcomes. It pauses at many different points both to show how resolutions of surplus land, capital, labor, and state capacity congealed into prisons, and also to suggest—and in the last chapters
I N T R O D U CT I O N
29
to argue—how alternative uses of the resources of everyday life
might otherwise have been organized. It is thus a book for everybody who is fighting against racism, old or new, for fair wages,
and especially for the social wage (in sum, for human rights). The
conclusion proposes ten theses for activists who seek to craft policies to build the capacity—the power—that propels social change
organizations, which are the backbone of social movements
(Horton and Freire 1990).
TWO
THE CALIFORNIA POLITICAL ECONOMY
F
ifth- or sixth-largest among the world’s economies, California passed the trillion dollar gross state product mark in
1997, a level nominally equal to U.S. domestic product in
1970. However, the wealthy and productive state’s poverty
rate rose in the national rankings, from thirtieth in 1980 to
fourteenth in 2001. Relative poverty, which compares incomes
within states, also snared more households, pushing California
into the company of historically poor states such as Louisiana,
New Mexico, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Kentucky; with
populous New York and Texas, where prisons have also expanded significantly; and with the classically bifurcated District
of Columbia, which has both the highest per capita income and
highest poverty in the country (Reed 2002). What happened?
GROWTH
California’s diversity has always been its strength and challenge.
Those who fashioned the Golden State’s dominant political, eco-
30
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
31
nomic, and cultural institutions exploited resources and methods
acquired locally, nationally, and internationally. The region’s development into metropolitan and agricultural empires required
extensive labor power, huge infusions of public and private capital, lengthy networks of human, water, and product transport
systems, and a state sufficiently powerful to maintain order and
promote expansion amid complexity.
Nineteenth-century California experienced rapid changes in
both population and land control. The transition following U.S.
victory in the Mexican War featured the implementation of state
tax and currency laws that enabled Anglo power brokers to obtain Mexican haciendas cheaply. At the same time, federal and
state financial and land subventions underwrote California’s railroad incorporation into the U.S. empire, ensuring that local
products would have access to national markets and beyond
(Bean 1973; Pisani 1984). These two movements of landownership concentrated into relatively few hands both the incentive
and the power to shape regional development trajectories. Their
power was not absolute; federal and state programs facilitated
rapid Anglo settlement of the vast state by the inducements of
cheap or even free land, and homesteaders confronted big capital in political and gun battles alike (Caughey 1940; Bean 1973),
with big capital winning when it was not divided against itself
(McWilliams 1946; Pisani 1984).
Not everyone who immigrated was a homesteader, and neither were all workers—immigrant or native born—of European origin. California’s labor force has always been diverse
(Saxton 1971; Bean 1973; Almaguer 1994). Asian, Mexicano,
African, and Anglo men and women came on their own or were
recruited or coerced to mine gold, build railroads, and perform
32
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
industrial, artisanal, agricultural, and service work (Bean 1973).
As is generally the case in the United States, differences among
workers, cast as race, ethnicity, citizenship, gender, and locale,
have both structured and been structured by labor markets
(Caughey 1940; Saxton 1971; Barrera 1979; Almaguer 1994).
California conferred particular form on these structures. As
simultaneously U.S. colonizers in what had formerly been part of
Mexico and controllers of a new state in the U.S. Union, the dominant Anglos organized labor and propertied classes according to
Black-white, European–non-European, and Protestant-Catholic
hierarchies (Saxton 1971; Almaguer 1994). Through legislative
edicts and institutional practices, state, capital, and labor power
blocs manipulated the unique characteristics of the population to
designate a “changing same” (Jones 1967) of those who counted
as members, servants, and enemies (Saxton 1971) of the emerging “Herrenvolk republic” (Saxton 1990). California’s extension
and specification of the normative U.S. racial state (Omi and
Winant 1986) also served to sanction genocide as the final solution to the problem of how to acquire indigenous people’s coveted lands (Caughey 1940; Stannard 1992).
Nineteenth-century California developed an industrial and
agricultural proletariat rather swiftly. In addition to the gradual
dispossession of Mexicanos and of Anglo homesteaders whose
farming failed to pay, many workers idled by depletion of goldmines or completion of railroads had no recourse but to seek wage
employment in factories and fields (Daniel 1981; Jacqueline Jones
1992). Organized labor had different rates of success around the
state. Victories for white workers in the San Francisco Bay
Area—many of whom were veterans of radical struggles elsewhere—were offset by across-the-board defeats for all workers in
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
33
Los Angeles and the inland agricultural counties. Capital triumphed in courtrooms (McWilliams 1946; Bean 1973; cf. Forbath
1991) and through state-sanctioned vigilante terror (Bean 1973;
McWilliams [1939] 1969). California’s white supremacist, anticapital Workingmen’s Party (1877–80), which emerged briefly
from the economic strife of the 1870s, left as its principal legacy
the 1882 federal law excluding Chinese immigration (Caughey
1940; Saxton 1971; Bean 1973). Ample but generally disorganized
and segregated labor formed the nucleus of the state’s rapid
growth into the next century.
In addition to labor, both metropolitan and agricultural development required ample water, and, starting at the turn of the
twentieth century, projects funded from federal and state coffers
transformed relatively arid land into parcels suitable for farm or
residential development (El-Ashry and Gibbons 1988; Pisani
1984; Gottlieb 1988; Hundley 1992). While state-developed
water was sold cheaply to nearly all agricultural buyers, those
with large holdings could exploit economies of scale to obtain
capital for improvements, pay the high cost of transport charged
by the railroad monopolies (Preston 1981; Reisner 1986; Howitt
and Moore 1994), and hire cheap labor in large numbers to work
the fields (Daniel 1981).
Urban-made goods, such as autos, tires, steel, aircraft, and
ships, joined petroleum and rural commodities—cotton, fruit,
vegetables, dairy products, lumber, cement—in California’s annually expanding basket of goods. The state continued to promote development by providing both direct industry subventions
(e.g., aircraft in Los Angeles [Lotchin 1992; Oden et al. 1996]) and
key infrastructural amenities, such as harbors and highways, that
both stimulated demand and enabled transport (Bean 1973).
34
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
Power blocs also designed municipal and intergovernmental
mandates, residential restrictive covenants, and other tools to
keep the state’s burgeoning wealth in the reach of some and out
of the reach of others (Mike Davis 1990; Weber 1994; Oden et al.
1996). The system was not static, but it was, for most of the state’s
history, fairly reliable. By organizing themselves politically and
economically into spatial and social enclosures, U.S.-born white
Californians guaranteed the conditions through which they
could reproduce their collective, if not individual, supremacy
(Almaguer 1994; Walker 1995).
The Great Depression threatened the racial capitalist state’s
progress. The period’s enormous dislocations of capital and labor
hit California with political as well as economic severity (Bean
1973), heightening the natural antagonisms between capital and
labor and occasioning both urban and rural struggles to advance
labor’s cause (Bulosan 1943; McWilliams 1946; Bean 1973; Mike
Davis 1990; Weber 1994; Walker 1995; Don Mitchell 1996). In
the cities, radical and Congress of Industrial Organizations
(CIO) activists brought together great mobilizations, capped by
the San Francisco / West Coast General Strike of May–July 1934
(Caughey 1940; Dowd 1997). In the countryside, Filipino, Mexicano, and other migrant farmworkers worked with communists
and the CIO to organize some of the biggest, and bloodiest, agricultural labor battles in U.S. history (Bulosan 1943; Daniel 1981;
Weber 1994; Don Mitchell 1996). If capitalists engaged in urban
struggles invoked the specter of “communism” (Dowd 1997),
race was the bogeyman of rural class war (Weber 1994; Don
Mitchell 1996; Woods 1998).1 Dense relations among Filipino,
Mexicano/Chicano, African, Chinese, and Japanese workers and
labor contractors and their mostly Anglo employers took on new
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
35
complexity when waves of Anglo Okies poured into the state in
the later part of the depression, prompting inter-Anglo class and
status strife (Bulosan 1943; Morgan 1992; Weber 1994). Upton
Sinclair’s 1934 gubernatorial campaign, with its call to End
Poverty in California (EPIC), won 38 percent of the vote, but
Sinclair lost to Republican Governor Frank Merriam, a political
cipher who had inherited the office. Overall, in concert with federal programs, the reformist strategies of New Dealers and Progressives defused urban struggles (Linda Gordon 1994; Faue
1990) and undermined rural ones (Weber 1994; Don Mitchell
1996). But it was international, rather than class, war that made
the biggest difference to California’s future fortunes.
The “creative destruction” of World War II boosted the California and national economies out of depression. The state’s military industry was large, consisting of both converted capacities
and assembly lines developed specifically for production of war
matériel (Lotchin 1992); by 1940, the federal government was investing 10 percent of its spending in California, a state that comprised 7 percent of the nation (Bean 1973). Millions, including
several hundred thousand African Americans, moved to California to build war machines, and while wartime wages were indexed to race and gender, workers across the board made more
money than they had ever dreamed possible. This prosperous period (1938–45) changed the state’s demographics, and particularly the racial structure of cities, as Black homeowners established communities in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley,
Richmond, and Los Angeles (Bean 1973; Scott and Soja 1996).
Although the war occasioned wartime domestic antiracist
militancy (C. L. R. James 1980), the social organization of warmaking—especially racial segregation of the armed forces, and
36
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
the dispossession and internment of West Coast, primarily Californian, Japanese Americans—preserved white supremacy. In
the postwar period, the repeal of de jure school segregation
(1946) and the declaration that restrictive covenants on real property were unconstitutional (1948) provoked long-lasting proapartheid activism on the part of white Californians. Their political labors culminated in a state constitutional amendment,
organized by the realtors’ association and passed by two-thirds of
the electorate, that guaranteed the right of home and other property owners to refuse to sell to anybody for any reason (Bean
1973).2 Thus, while some domestic changes wrought by warfare
had lasting effects on the state’s political and social economy,
other changes proved illusory, in the near term at least.
Along with phantom social gains, the period’s profits seemed
in danger of evaporating after the hot war’s end; however, public
and private sector power blocs wagered the state’s economic future on the burgeoning military-industrial complex and became
major players in the Pentagon-centered movement to maintain
expansive military preparedness in the postwar era (Markusen et
al. 1991; Gregory Hooks 1991). “Industrial heartland” manufacturers generally reconverted war industry capacity to production
of consumer or producer goods (Markusen and Yudken 1992).
But in California, as throughout “the gunbelt” (Markusen et al.
1991), the political-economic strategy was to seek increased federal investment in the form of prime Department of Defense
(DOD) contracts. California coupled aerospace (Markusen and
Yudken 1992) with electronics research and development (Saxenian 1995) to achieve the highest dollar volume of prime DOD
contracts of any state from 1958 on (Markusen et al. 1991). Rising with the South during the Cold War (Schulman 1994), Cali-
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
37
fornia developed major military-industrial districts, heavily concentrated in Los Angeles and Santa Clara (“Silicon Valley”)
Counties (Markusen et al. 1991; Oden et al. 1996; Saxenian 1995).
With its dependence on defense secured, California became the
exemplary “military Keynesian” (Turgeon 1996; Mike Davis
1986) or “welfare-warfare” (O’Connor [1973] 2000; cf. F. J. Cook
1962) state.
The massive infusion of wealth designated for aeronautical
and electronic warfare innovations required a new and specialized labor force (Markusen and Yudken 1992; R. W. Gilmore
1991; Geiger 1993), prompting the state to make enormous investment in educational infrastructure. Historically, California
had followed the national postsecondary trajectory. Land-grant
agricultural and mechanical colleges were established in the
wake of the 1862 federal Morrill Act. Public and private senior
research universities, such as Stanford and the University of California, developed in the late nineteenth century in tandem with
the diversification and consolidation of the modern business corporation (Chandler 1990; Geiger 1985) and the expansion of U.S.
imperialism. To produce, under the sign of Sputnik (1958), sufficient professional, managerial, and technical strata for the theoretical and applied challenges to come, the state crafted an unprecedented “master plan” for higher education, which pledged
an appropriate postsecondary education at public expense to
every high school graduate (R. W. Gilmore 1991; Walker 1995).3
Through the 1960s, California’s relative stability depended on
interlacing the military complex with consumer and producergoods manufacturing, agriculture, resource-extraction industries, and high levels of consumption (Mike Davis 1986; Walker
1995). The state’s population grew with the economy, doubling
38
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
between 1950 and 1970 to over 20 million people (Teitz 1984).
The federal interstate highway system and the State Water Project (SWP) allowed for extensive and intensive residential and
commercial development. People and firms could be spread further and further afield thanks to excellent roadways. The guarantee of water well into the next century facilitated increasingly
dense development in the relatively arid Southland and served
also to subsidize Central Valley agriculture via low-cost sale of
the project’s surplus water to growers (Reisner 1986).
Politically and numerically, Anglos continued to control the
state. However, opportunities for advancement, opened to all
Californians by federal mandates that were the outcome of antiracist struggle, led to the making of new political formations.
Groups opposed to inequality used campuses and desegregated
armed forces units as places to promote causes and forge alliances
that differed from, but often complemented, neighborhood- and
work-based mobilizations; by these means, activists renovated
possibilities for broad-based radical coalitions that had not been
evidenced since the urban and rural strikes of the 1930s (R. W.
Gilmore 1991, 1993b).
The reasons for activism centered on the period’s uneven
achievement of “domestic reform and . . . productivity sustained
by mass purchasing power” (Mike Davis 1986: 181). In other
words, a key feature of military Keynsianism only partially reorganized the structures of the racial state. Economic inequality is
a political problem. African Americans who had migrated from
the South and East to fight their way into wartime industries
(C. L. R. James 1980) and their California-born children were
poorer in real terms in 1969 than they had been in 1945, because
after the hot war was over, most were pushed out of war matériel
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
39
jobs, whose pay levels could not be duplicated in other sectors
(Soja and Scott 1996; Ong and Blumenberg 1996). Thus, extreme
poverty concentrated in Alameda County, Los Angeles, and
other regions where Black people had settled (Himes [1945]
1986; Sonenshein 1993; Walker 1995; cf. Massey and Denton
1993).
The 1965 Watts Rebellion was a conscious enactment of opposition (even if “spontaneous” in a Leninist sense) to inequality
in Los Angeles, where everyday apartheid was forcibly renewed
by police under the direction of the unabashedly white supremacist Chief William Parker (Sonenshein 1993).4 In Oakland, the
Black Panther Party was conceived as a dramatic, highly disciplined, and easy-to-emulate challenge to local police brutality.
Militant Black urban antiracist organizing that focused on attacking the concrete ways in which “race . . . is the modality
through which class is lived” (Stuart Hall 1980: 341) emerged
from many decades of struggle in the bloody crucible of revolution against both southern apartheid and its doppelgänger in
northern cities (Dittmer 1994; Kelley 1990; Newton 1996).5 As
Richard Walker (1995) notes, the Black Power movement inspired complementary Brown Power (Chicano: both urban
[Acuña 1988] and rural [United Farm Workers (Pulido 1995a)]
variants) and Yellow Power (Asian American) movements
(Pulido 2005).
In 1967 the system began to come apart symbolically and materially. During the Summer of Love, as thousands of flower children flocked to San Francisco to repudiate the establishment, California lined up its anti-antiracist coercive forces behind the
vanguard Panther Gun Bill (Bean 1973; Donner 1990; Newton
1996)6—all of this at the same time that the rate of profit began its
40
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
spectacular decline (David Gordon 1996). The 1969–70 recession
hit California harder than the rest of the United States because of
deep cuts in military spending (Teitz 1984). Unemployment in the
state nearly doubled, even though total personal income hardly
wavered from its steady upward climb (CDF-CEI December
1975). Notably, the layoffs of thousands of aerospace engineers, although in the end temporary (Teitz 1984), provided an important
foundation for invigorating active consciousness of a normative
racial state—regardless of reports on civil disorders that concluded “institutional racism” to be a structural problem in the nation and the state (California, Governor’s Commission 1965;
United States, Kerner Commission 1968).7 Thus, at the historical
turn that set the stage for California’s restructuring, power blocs
rising from the Sunbelt (Kevin Phillips 1969; Schulman 1994), including California’s Governor Ronald Reagan and U.S. President
Richard Nixon, began to propose “law and order” as the appropriate response to domestic insecurity, whatever its root causes
(Kevin Phillips 1990; Newton 1996).
CRISES
After several years of relative relief underwritten by new rounds
of military investment, California entered another slide in the
world recession of 1973–75. For the United States, the recession
was a deliberate structural adjustment, effected through monetary policy—the 1971 abandonment of the gold standard in August and devaluation of the dollar the next winter (Mike Davis
1986; Shaikh 1996). Workers responded in 1974 with major
strikes around the country, including a number of stoppages—
especially in transport and communication—in California
(CDF-CEI October 1975).8 They also swept Democrats into of-
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
41
fice in state and congressional elections, with California no exception. However, high unemployment and high interest rates
undermined the power of traditional big organized labor in California and elsewhere: workers in government sectors and in
dominant industries, such as transport and steel, were disciplined by the Federal Reserve’s strategic manipulation of the cost
of money to divest labor of its already circumscribed midcentury
gains (Dickens 1996; N. Lichtenstein 1982).
The state’s chronic urban unemployment (Oliver et al. 1993;
Grant et al. 1996) deepened in concert with rural displacements—with unemployment running highest in inner cities and
in rural counties most reliant on resource extraction and agriculture (Bradshaw 1993; CDF-CEI 1977). Mining and lumber significantly reduced operations throughout the state during the
1970s (CDF-CEI 1977). In agriculture, the devastating drought
of 1975–77 drove smaller farmers into bankruptcy; many who
stayed in business borrowed heavily to finance irrigation improvements and changed crops to exploit the growing international market in specialty produce (Howitt and Moore 1994;
Watts 1994b). Labor-replacing innovations in major agribusiness
commodities such as cotton pushed thousands of farmworkers
into the production of labor-intensive, minimally organized
crops such as berries and nuts (Bradshaw 1993; cf. Wells 1996).
Wages have never recovered from the freeze during this key period of urban and rural labor disciplining, either in the United
States as a whole or in the Golden State (David Gordon 1996;
Arnold and Levy 1994; Greenhouse 1997).
During the 1970s, immigration swelled the state’s labor force,
particularly in the Southland (Waldinger and Bozorgmehr
1996), the San Francisco Bay Area (Walker 1995), and around in-
42
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
land valley farms (Bradshaw 1993; Walker 1995). The newcomers came from all over the world, but most were from Mexico,
followed by other Central American countries, especially El Salvador and Guatemala (Sabagh and Bozorgmehr 1996; Walker
1995). Complementing natural population increase, immigration
after 1973 inaugurated the epochal shift of the state’s majority
from Anglo in 1970 to not Anglo, with no single group filling the
majority void, by about the year 2000. Thus, at the same time that
low-wage urban and rural industries could profitably exploit
substantial pools of workers who lacked both union and citizenship protections, the social structure as a whole began to come
apart because of the raw, numerical threat to white supremacy
represented by unorganized, but densely concentrated, new and
old Californians of color.
After a brief infusion of federal job funds in 1977, the interscalar federal-state consolidation of the postwar era started to
come apart in such key areas as education funding and employment opportunities for “individuals without strong marketable
skills” (CDF-CEI December 1977: 6). The federal retreat required subnational polities and institutions to take responsibility
for social problems whether they wanted to or not, forcing them
to deal with the newly dispossessed, who ranged from unemployed youth to financially needy students to homeless families.
The contemporary rise of the local state, celebrated by so many
geographers, represents in part a generally reactionary move to
reexternalize, or keep external, such social burdens and fiscal
costs (see, e.g., Lake 1992, 1994).
When voters initiated the taxpayers’ revolt with 1978’s Proposition 13, California municipal and state treasuries had substantial surpluses (as was the case throughout the United States as a
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
43
whole), with annual revenues comfortably exceeding expenditures (CDF-CEI November–December 1977; Gramlich 1991).
Proposition 13 shielded real property from periodic reassessment and set a maximum tax rate, thus depriving municipal governments of a prime source of revenue; as a result, whereas in
1977–78, K–12 school districts received 51.7 percent of their budgets from property taxes, the percentage was only 18.1 percent in
1988–89 (Chapman 1991: 19). The compensatory implementation of regressive taxes such as sales tax and user fees helped ensure that as local governments drew down their reserves and
then tightened their belts, the poor would have higher relative
costs and fewer services than their richer neighbors.
California’s reliance on military-industrial outlays increased
steadily from 1976–77 forward, when the value of DOD prime
contracts hit one of many high marks (fig. 3; CDF-CEI December
1977, December 1985). Highly paid DOD-funded positions were
concentrated in research and development (Markusen et al. 1991);
this, combined with a decline in military assembly-line work
(Oden et al. 1996), constituted another wedge in the long bifurcation splitting apart the state’s industrial, racial, and political structures (fig. 3). The location of defense and other high-technology
jobs (Soja 1989; Oliver et al. 1993) exacerbated the state’s residential and income segregation (Walters 1992; Mike Davis 1990;
Bullard et al. 1994). Between 1980 and 1984, DOD prime contracts
achieved new highs and California continued to command a disproportionate share of income from the trillion dollar arms
buildup under the Carter and Reagan administrations, most of
which went to higher-wage workers (Oden et al. 1966).
Thus, in advance of the 1980–82 recession, the ensuing boom,
and the great recession of 1990–94, the path bifurcating Califor-
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
32
460
30
440
28
Jobs
420
26
400
24
380
360
22
20
Contracts
Jobs (000)
Contracts ($ billions, 1987 = 100)
44
340
18
320
16
300
14
72
74
76
78
80
82
84
86
88
90
92
Year
FIGURE 3. Defense prime contracts and manufacturing jobs, 1972–1992.
Source: Kroll and Corley 1994.
nia into richer and poorer had already deeply grooved the
political-economic landscape. Between 1969 and 1979, while voters schemed to make tax revenues stick in smaller and smaller
territories to ensure minimal income redistribution, poverty
among California’s children rose 25 percent (Teitz 1984). The rising cost of shelter undermined the buying power of flat wages,
and the sum of these effects carried forward into the 1980s
(CDF-CEI 1975–82).
In 1980, the prime rate hit 21 percent; in 1982, unemployment
surged to 10.5 percent. These stunningly high figures repeated,
with a difference, the state’s experience of the mid 1970s, when the
prime reached 12 percent (1974) and unemployment 10.5 percent
(1975). Economists competed to explain the high interest–high
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
45
unemployment coupling once thought to be mutually exclusive
(Krugman 1994). The importance of the explanatory transition
lies not in whether a new theory would serve as a reliable guide
for action, but rather in how the public, high-profile scramble for
a new theory served popularly to delegitimate the Keynesian approach to mitigating crisis, and set the stage for more deliberately
undoing the welfare state (Krugman 1994; Grant et al. 1996).9
The safety net came under attack at two levels: technically, it was
condemned as a device that distorted markets by providing an
employment disincentive for low-wage workers, who, in the aggregate, keep wages—and therefore prices—under control. Colloquially, the safety net was characterized as a hammock in which
the undeserving poor (like Ronald Reagan’s much-publicized
welfare queen) lounged while industrious Anglos labored or
looked for work.
The structure of manufacturing employment started to
change dramatically during the 1980–82 recession. There are
two general explanations for job losses in high-wage sectors. Either, as in the case of automobiles, plants had reached full amortization and management decided not to reinvest in place (Bluestone and Harrison 1982); or, as in the case of some primary
metals, management either made the wrong investments or invested in labor-replacing technologies (Walters 1992; Arnold
and Levy 1994). High-growth sectors, such as apparel, command
wages of only about 60 percent of the average wages paid to employees in all industries (Arnold and Levy 1994).
California continued to be a manufacturing state, but it produced a different mix of goods, which meant that manufacturers
drew from different labor market segments (David Gordon et al.
1982; Storper and Walker 1984). The disorganizing effect of
46
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
structural change further undermined union power that had
been disintegrating since the previous decade; of the few 1980s
strikes around the country that capital and state took note of as
possible precedent-setters, California’s sole entry was the Kaiser
Permanente strike of October–December 1986 (CDF-CEI
1989).10 It was not until 1988, for example, that labor advocates
could muster sufficient political authority to increase the state’s
minimum wage from $3.35 to $4.25 per hour; while for the typical household in 1984 and 1985, the average annual cost of rent
and utilities ranged from $5,386 in Los Angeles to $6,983 in the
Bay Area (CDF-CEI 1989).
Areas outside the major urban cores also experienced the intensified division between richer and poorer. Statewide, in 1982,
the median house price exceeded $100,000 (CDF-CEI 1982)—62
percent higher than the national average—while per capita income, at $13,410, was only 15 percent over the national measure
(California State Public Works Board 1993a–d). High housing
prices, tied to and exacerbated by the high cost of money, pushed
many middle-income earners seeking homeownership to move
to counties where farmlands were rapidly converting to suburbs
(Walters 1992; Sokolow and Spezia 1994). The desert counties
east and southeast of Los Angeles and Stanislaus County in the
Great Central Valley east of the Bay Area appealed to priced-out
metropolitan housing markets. Developers built bedroom communities for commuters willing to drive two hours or more each
way (Walters 1992; fig. 4).
Beset by unemployment and poverty rates running 67–200
percent above metropolitan levels (CDF-CEI 1982; Walters
1992), rural counties and towns not located on the commuter
path tried to diversify their economies by recruiting small man-
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
47
50
Growth (%)
40
30
20
10
0
l
and ties
ains oun
unt n C
Mo ther
Nor
rea
ay A
er B
oth
All
tro
con
wth a
Gro ay Are
B
co
y
alle
ral V
ncis
Fra
ent
at C
San
Gre
ty
st
Coa
tral
Cen
d
hlan
out
er S
oth s
All ountie
C
ty
n
Cou
n
Cou
les
e
Ang
nge
Ora
Los
rnia
ifo
Cal
FIGURE 4. Population growth by region, 1980–1990. Source: Walters
(1986) 1992.
ufacturing or back-office work (Bradshaw 1993). At the same
time, California’s food exports, which had been competing in the
burgeoning “global food regime” (Watts 1994b), lost market
share as a strong dollar forced up prices, increasing farmer bankruptcies and farm consolidations (Sokolow and Spezia 1992;
Walters 1992). At the end of the day, places passed over for development fell even further behind, while development projects
in high-unemployment localities summoned new entrants to the
disorganized, low-wage segment of the labor market, diluting
the chances for residents most in need of jobs (Bradshaw 1993; cf.
Bartik 1990, 1991; Storper and Walker 1984; Chinitz 1960).
Money capital played a major role in restructuring California’s built environment. Astronomical interest rates encouraged
48
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
savings and loans directors to lend well beyond their capacity and
falsify the value of collateral in order to look solvent for auditors
and shareholders, as well as to pay themselves hefty fees (Henwood 1997). The building boom of the 1980s included both residential and nonresidential development; and the latter’s overvaluation, combined with a sluggish rental or sales market for such
spaces, plunged major institutions such as Lincoln Savings into
bankruptcy. In rural areas, the Bank of America, a major agricultural lender from the 1920s onward, had a rash of foreclosures
on farms in the Great Central Valley (Gottlieb 1988). Meanwhile,
federal Farm Credit System loans aggressively marketed in the
1970s came due in the 1980s, when farmers could not pay, forcing debtors to sell collateral or default. The farm debt crisis was
so severe that the Farm Credit System Board asked Congress for
a $74 billion bailout (for nationwide defaults) in 1985—at the
same time that failed savings and loans were tapping their federal
insurance fund. But if unruly capital had recourse to governmental guarantees, both unruly and docile labor had a harder
row to hoe.
California’s safety net unraveled rapidly in the hands of Reagan’s ideological successor in Sacramento, George Deukmejian.
During the run-up to the 1982 gubernatorial election, it had appeared that the Democratic candidate, Tom Bradley, a retired
policeman and African American in his fourth term as Los Angeles mayor, would prevail against the Republican candidate, a
Sunbelt lawyer with deep roots in the Central Valley. Running
against taxes, spending, and crime, however, Deukmejian won,
although by a margin of less than 1 percent; in the rematch four
years later, he won by a landslide. In his first term, Deukmejian
achieved one of the nation’s first workfare programs: whereas in
T H E CA LI F O R N I A P O LI T I CA L E C O N O M Y
49
1977, 20 percent of the state’s job growth was funded by cooperative federal and state programs guaranteeing employment for
youth who wanted work but could not find it (CDF-CEI 1978),
by 1985, California started to require paid jobs of women who
were already full-time mothers, and often full-time students as
well (Paddock and Wolinsky 1985). Indeed, although education
seemed to be a protected arena during the campaign, the Deukmejian administration’s actual spending undermined the Master
Plan for Postsecondary Education. Education fees rose dramatically at nominally tuition-free institutions, and the continuity
and coordination between the educational segments—community colleges through research universities—while not altogether
abandoned, were displaced in favor of product specialization, efficiency, and competition (R. W. Gilmore 1991).
Planning for state and regional growth foundered in the Republican administrations of Governors George Deukmejian
(1982–90) and Pete Wilson (1990–98). Indeed, the Democratic
administration of Governor Jerry Brown had produced the last
general plan in its first term (1974–78), …
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