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Converting Chowchilla women's prison into a men's prison?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chowchilla city leaders are speaking out against a possible plan to turn one of its women's prisons into a facility for male inmates.

People who live in Chowchilla say the women's prisons have been good community partners. But they worry changing one of them into a men's facility could cost prison employees their jobs, and bring more crime to the city.

The two women's prisons in Chowchilla are home to thousands of inmates serving time for everything from drug charges to murder. But local leaders say the facilities have been positive additions to the city since opening in the 1990's.

Mayor David Alexander said, "They've been a part of our community for two decades now. So they are part of the community."

But now they're worried one of the facilities could be turned into a men's prison as the state faces a court ordered deadline for reducing overcrowding. Mayor David Alexander says that's raising serious concerns for the prison employees.

Mayor Alexander said, "People are looking at if this changed, am I gonna have a job, can I feed my family? Am I gonna be relocated?"

A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tells Action News no plans are in place to convert any facilities, but all options are on the table.

Chowchilla Police Chief Jay Varney said, "The mayor's been approached by members of the staff from our facilities, we're hearing it through other back channel connections, and frankly to me that's beyond a rumor."

Chief Jay Varney says he's concerned converting one of the prisons to a men's facility could bring hundreds of inmates' families to Chowchilla in a short period of time.

Chief Varney said, "We're told the families of the men's facilities tend to move to where the facility is at as opposed to staying in their home county."

Chief Varney believes that would put a serious strain on the city's housing, social services, and law enforcement. Residents also worry about a possible increase in crime.

Robyn Gomes said, "We just want to keep our community as safe as we possibly can for our children."

Chowchilla city officials say they're taking a proactive approach on this because in 2006 a bill was proposed to convert one of the prisons and the process started moving fast before the bill failed. Officials want to make residents aware of the possibility even though the state denies any plans are in the works.

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chowchilla, madera county, local, sara sandrik
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