[Ppnews] California - Chowchilla women's prison squeezed

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 8 15:58:04 EST 2013

*Chowchilla women's prison squeezed*

    Rank as state's most-crowded facility sparks protests

By JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH - jsmith at mercedsunstar.com 
<mailto:jsmith at mercedsunstar.com>

CHOWCHILLA -- After a brief reprieve from the bloated conditions that 
plagued the state's prison system for years, the Central California 
Women's Facility outside Chowchilla has become the most crowded prison 
in the state.

As of Dec. 26, the facility housed 3,608 inmates, according to 
corrections officials. Designed for 2,004 beds, officials said, the 
state prison is at more than 180 percent of intended capacity.

Officials said the next most crowded prison is Avenal State Prison, also 
in the Central Valley, at 171 percent of design capacity. 

California prison officials insist that the Central California Women's 
Facility outside Chowchilla is not overcrowded. 'No inmate is being 
housed in nontraditional beds. We've been far more overcrowded than 
where we are now,' according to corrections spokeswoman Dana Simas.

More than a dozen groups from around the state -- including the 
California Coalition for Women Prisoners and Californians United for a 
Responsible Budget -- have organized a rally to protest the conditions.

"These cells were set up for two to four people max, and they're up to 
eight people again," said Colby Lenz, campaign coordinator for the 
coalition. "They're not enough resources in terms of hygiene. They're 
not getting cleaning supplies or tampons. It's a public health disaster.

The protest will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 26 in front of Valley State 
Prison outside Chowchilla.

However, corrections officials dismissed the groups' concerns.

"We're not overcrowded," said Dana Simas, a California Department of 
Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman. "No inmate is being housed 
in nontraditional beds. We've been far more overcrowded than where we 
are now."

"At (the Central California Women's Facility), they have a brand new 
skilled nursing facility," she added. "So if there's any medical issues 
that arise, they're getting the medical attention they require."

The prison's population recently ballooned after Valley State Prison, 
across the street, began conversion into a facility for male inmates.

Hundreds of female inmates were transferred to the two remaining women's 
prisons -- the Central California Women's Facility and the California 
Institution for Women, outside Corona in Southern California.

Corrections officials said the move was necessary to ease overcrowding 
at prisons for men.

Under a decision from a federal three-judge panel, the state must reduce 
its prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity by June 26 -- 
a court order largely driven by concerns about medical care access. 
California's prison system stands at 149.8 percent of design capacity, 
according to corrections officials.

But the population cap refers to the system's 33 adult facilities 
collectively. Under the ruling, it doesn't matter how packed any one 
prison is, as long as the average population of all facilities remains 
within the limit.

This allows prison officials some leeway when trying to house a shifting 
population with varying security needs, according to corrections officials.

Advocates say the state is using the technicality unfairly.

"We're not going to allow them to get away with overcrowding women in 
order for them to get their overall number down," Lenz said. "That's 
gender discrimination and it's unconstitutional."

The conditions at the Central California Women's Facility will ease when 
a facility for 408 women opens in Folsom in two weeks, prison officials 

Meanwhile, corrections officials said, Valley State Prison still has 312 
women waiting to be transferred out.

Officials turned in a plan Monday outlining a strategy to reduce the 
state's prison population.

Considering upgrades to the prison's medical system, the state could try 
to renegotiate the terms of the court order, Simas said.

"Because we've decreased our population levels and increased our health 
care, we might ask to operate at a different level of design capacity," 
she said.

/Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 
<tel:%28209%29%20385-2486> or jsmith at mercedsunstar.com 
<mailto:jsmith at mercedsunstar.com>./


Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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