[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
"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,"
/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>./
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