Chowchilla Valley State Prison for Women to convert to men's prison in 2013

12/09/2011 1:06 PM

12/10/2011 1:18 AM

Chowchilla's Valley State Prison for Women will be converted to a men's prison in July 2013, even though local officials have voiced strong opposition to the change.

The change is being made because of fewer female inmates and overcrowding in men's prisons, said Dana Toyama, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The prison will be a low- to medium-security facility, Toyama said Friday.

Madera County Supervisor David Rogers, one of many local officials who opposed the long-rumored conversion, said he will continue to fight it.

Rogers said state prison officials bypassed an environmental review, which he said is required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Toyama said no significant physical changes will be made to the prison, therefore an environmental review is not required.

Rogers said families of male prisoners tend to move to be near them, more so than those of female inmates. That could create a greater demand on public safety, social services and schools and stretch already tight budgets, he said.

Male prisons also attract inmates' associates, who then commit crimes, which will strain law enforcement and the resources of the District Attorney's Office, he said.

"Those kinds of impacts are not something that we should have to absorb," Rogers said.

Toyama said surveys indicated that fewer than 4 percent of male and female inmates' families move to communities where prisoners are housed.

Chowchilla Mayor David Alexander said local officials will do their best to deal with the conversion.

"We're not happy," he said. However, "change is coming, so we have to be prepared for that."

The prison conversion will occur in phases. Female inmates will be moved across the road to the Central California Women's Facility and to the California Institution for Women in Corona.

As of Nov. 30, California's female inmate population was 8,468. State projections estimate it will fall to 5,767 by June 30, 2013.

In 2013, the two remaining women's prisons will have space for about 5,000 women, and facilities for lower-level offenders will handle the hundreds of remaining female inmates, Toyama said.

Valley State Prison for Women holds 3,171 inmates.

The number of male inmates and staff is expected to be roughly the same once the conversion is complete, state officials said.

The percentages of male and female employees at the prison will remain about the same, Toyama said.

Both Chowchilla women's prisons house minimum- to maximum-security inmates, Toyama said.

Corrections officials met with the Chowchilla community in August. After evaluation and consideration, the prison was selected for conversion instead of closure, which keeps jobs in the community, corrections department officials said.

The state began its prison realignment in October. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was mandated by a federal court order to reduce statewide inmate population in its 33 prisons to 137.5 percent of design capacity by June 27, 2013.

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