Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fresno Bee: City of Chowchilla sues state over prison conversion

Chowchilla sues to halt prison conversion

Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011

The city of Chowchilla has filed a lawsuit to stop state officials from converting one of two Madera County women's prisons into a men's prison.

The suit, filed Monday in Madera County Superior Court, says Chowchilla officials believe the state did not conduct an environmental review, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, before starting the process of converting Valley State Prison for Women into a men's prison.

No decision has been made to convert the women's prison east of Chowchilla to a men's facility, Dana Toyama, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Wednesday.
However, state prison officials are in the process of determining where to house inmates now that the overall population is being cut.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to drastically reduce the number of inmates in its chronically overcrowded prisons. The court gave California two years to cut the population to about 110,000 inmates from the current 147,000.

Officials in Madera County strongly oppose a prison conversion, fearing it would put a strain on social services.

They said they have heard anecdotally that families of male inmates tend to move to be near their prisons and have a greater need for public assistance.

That's not as likely for the families of female inmates, they said.

The Central California Women's Facility, which opened in 1990, and the Valley State Prison for Women, which opened five years later, have been good neighbors and have not created problems for the community, city officials said.

A statement read by Chowchilla City Administrator Mark Lewis at Tuesday's City Council meeting said that city and state prison officials met that day to discuss the lawsuit.

Both sides prefer to resolve issues amicably and will meet again, Lewis said.

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