'Women' taken out of Chowchilla prison name

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comOctober 9, 2012 

— Prison officials are moving forward with the conversion of the Valley State Prison for Women to a men's facility more quickly than some had anticipated.

The sign at the entrance to the facility has already been changed to read simply: "Valley State Prison."

Corrections officials recently announced the conversion would move ahead after Contra Costa Superior Court lifted an injunction that had been in place for more than eight months.

The city of Chowchilla filed a legal challenge to the project in January after prison officials declined to do a full environmental impact study of the conversion.

Initially, the court halted the conversion. However, the court recent decided that the need to ease prison overcrowding trumped the city's concerns.

Local officials continue to voice fears that prison officials haven't properly evaluated the impact families relocating to live near male inmates will have on the area.

Prison officials argue the impacts will be no more significant that those associated with female prisoners.

The hearing date to determine whether the department must conduct an environmental review is scheduled for Dec. 7.

The female inmates at the prison, who number more than 1,700, will be relocated to one of the two other California women's prisons, and possibly a soon-to-be-reopened 400-capacity, low-security women's prison in Folsom, according to prison officials.

The converted Valley State Prison will continue to employ about 1,000 people and likely house about 2,000 male inmates, according to state officials.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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