Hiring has begun to fill 2,400 positions at the soon-to-open prison hospital in southern San Joaquin County. Most of those jobs will go to folks with medical training, and current or recently laid-off state employees are expected to snag many of them.
Nevertheless, the California Health Care Facility, Stockton, will bolster employment and revenue in the Northern San Joaquin Valley for decades to come.
The 400-acre compound southeast of Stockton is just off Highway 99 and about 15 miles north of the Stanislaus County border.
The state has spent $900 million and two years building the massive prison medical facility, which it expects to complete in May. The first of 1,722 inmates are scheduled to move in in July.
Those prisoners will be convicted felons who have chronic medical or mental health problems. To provide them around-the-clock treatment, the state expects to spend about $220 million per year on employee salaries and benefits.
About 80 core administrative team members are on staff, and they're hunting for all kinds of employees from psychiatrists who will be paid up to $282,000 per year to beginning secretaries who will earn more than $32,000.
Many guards, groundskeepers, kitchen workers and specialists such as barbers and locksmiths will be needed, too. More than 400 psychiatric technicians who need less than two years of college training to prepare themselves for jobs that pay more than $56,000 per year also will be hired.
All 2,400 state jobs will be full time with generous benefits, and they'll be subject to civil service regulations designed to make the hiring process fair.
Getting on civil service list
Civil service jobs are rare in Stanislaus because neither the state nor the federal government employs many people in the county. As a result, Stanislaus job seekers may not fully understand what it takes to get onto a government hiring list.
"We just haven't had many local opportunities for civil service jobs here until now. This is something new and positive," said Jeff Rowe, work force development director for the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance. "Now that we have a large state facility just across the county line, it gives people in Stanislaus a reason to consider getting on the civil service list."
Getting on such lists requires taking a state "exam" that essentially ranks how qualified a person is to work in any of more than 700 job categories. Before people can apply for any state job opening, they must complete the appropriate exam and get on the right list.
Here's the catch: Exams aren't always available when job openings occur.
"It's important people get on that civil service list in advance because by the time they find out there's a job opening they want, it may be too late (to take the exam) and get on the list," Rowe said.
That, unfortunately, may be the case for many people who might want to apply this spring for jobs at the prison.
Example: The state recently finished administering its exams for custodians, cooks and warehouse workers all of whom will be needed at the Stockton facility.
"Those exams could be offered again," said Bill Sessa, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "People should be looking at the website constantly to see when exams are offered."
There are three websites job seekers need to check for job opportunities at the Stockton prison, and each one lists different jobs with specific application procedures.
That's because three state agencies will be doing the hiring there:
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation This used to be known as the department of prisons. It will employ correctional officers, cooks, groundspeople, janitors and workers in supporting roles to keep the facility secure and operational. It lists openings and exams at www.cdcr.ca.gov/careers.
California Department of State Hospitals This used to be the department of mental health. It will employ hundreds of psychiatry, psychology, social work, rehabilitation therapy and nursing staff members, plus management and support staff. Its website about the Stockton openings is at www.dsh.ca.gov/Stockton/Jobs/CurrentRecruitments.asp.
California Prison Health Care This agency was created as the result of a class-action lawsuit regarding prison health care. It will employ hundreds of physicians, psychiatrists, psychiatric technicians, licensed vocational and registered nurses, dieticians, administrators and operational staff in Stockton. It posts openings at http://cphcs.hodesiq.com/joblist.asp? user_id=&CustomField_ 1044=49472.
Further complicating the Stockton hiring process is that civil service requirements enable state employees who have been or may be laid off elsewhere to transfer to jobs at the new prison.
Sessa said the number of inmates and employees in state prisons is shrinking because criminals convicted of lesser crimes are being sent to local detention facilities.
"There's a lot of shuffling of staff right now," Sessa said. "And we're looking for transfers within the department first (before hiring new people)."
Virtually all the correctional officers needed in Stockton, for example, are expected to transfer from other state prisons.
More money to spend
Local residents won't get those jobs, but the region's economy will benefit.
That's because many of those transferred workers may end up moving to the region especially to Stockton, Modesto, Manteca, Ripon, Escalon and Oakdale.
Rowe said those well-paid residents will have money to spend, which has "a secondary effect" of creating jobs in stores and restaurants and businesses. Local companies, in theory, will hire additional people to serve them.
Workers transferring to work at the prison hospital also are expected to stimulate the region's housing market.
"It's a simple drive up the freeway to get there from Modesto, so I'm sure a lot of them are going to be renting homes and apartments here," said Phil Schmidt of PMZ Real Estate.
For medical professionals, Schmidt said, "anything within 30 minutes is considered reasonable" when it comes to buying a home. He said Stanislaus' relatively low home prices (January's median sales price was $150,000) and record-low mortgage interest rates will make buying a home in the county an affordable option for many workers there.
Schmidt expects prison workers who move to the region will "do their research to find a neighborhood and a city they relate to."
Stockton is pushing hard to make itself the city of choice for those 2,400 employees, and the state of California seems to be supporting that effort.
For instance: The California Department of State Hospitals' "welcome packet" for those considering jobs at the prison describes Stockton as "an urban destination blooming with arts, culture, fine dining, shopping, sports, recreation, fine agricultural products and family activities." It does not mention any other city.
State agencies also are sponsoring a "vendor fair" in Stockton on March 18 to help local companies learn how to become certified to sell products and services to the prison. That two-hour event will start at 1 p.m. at the Stockton Hilton, 2323 Grand Canal Blvd. Registration is required by sending contact information to Kim.Petersen@cdcr.ca.gov.
Training for psych techs
Stockton's San Joaquin Delta College received extra funding to expand its psychiatric technician training program to help prepare employees for the prison. The hundreds of psych techs hired there will be paid $56,400 to $65,748 per year.
About 70 students graduated from Delta's one-year psych tech program in December, including some from Stanislaus. An additional 59 students are being trained, and about 60 more will start their training in May. The next opportunity to apply for that program is in August, but the training won't begin until January.
For more information on the Delta program, go to: www.deltacollege.edu/div/hs/ptfaq.html.
"Everyone has the same chance to get into the psych tech program because admission is not done based on grade-point averages. It's done by lottery," said Julie Kay, acting director of health services at Delta.
Kay said students must take several prerequisite classes and pass a criminal background check to be eligible for the training. The program costs nearly $4,300 to complete, not counting room and board.
Graduates must pass state licensing exams and go through the civil service process before getting a chance at one of those prison psych tech jobs.
It may be too late to get training for some of the initial jobs at the prison, but more jobs openings are coming.
Another state corrections facility called the DeWitt Nelson Conversion Project is being built next to California Health Care Facility, Stockton.
DeWitt Nelson is scheduled to open next year. Its $113 million facility will treat 1,133 inmates with chronic mental health problems. It is expected to employ hundreds of additional medical and correction staff members, including many psych techs.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.