CHOWCHILLA – A growing concern is taking center stage in Chowchilla, where city officials discuss the possibility of using one of its two women’s prisons to house male inmates.
Chowchilla City Council members first met with officials from Madera County and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Monday to deal with the potential of one of the female prisons being converted to an institution housing men.
A variety of complicated questions remain to be answered, including what potential strain would fall on local social services if prisons are realigned. The city may also be forced to more aggressively expand services if men move into one of the female prisons.
Looming over the entire discussion is the U.S Supreme Court’s ruling in May ordering the California to decrease the population of its overcrowded prisons.
The court gave the state a deadline of two years to reduce the current number of 147,000 male inmates to 110,000. As part of the effort to meet that deadline, lower-level criminals will serve their sentences in county jails beginning Oct. 1.
The two female prisons in Chowchilla are The Central California Women’s Facility, which first opened back in 1990, and the Valley State Prison for Women, which opened its doors five years later.
City officials worry that a new male prison won’t be as quiet a neighbor to the community as its two female institutions. According to them, a male prison brings with it a higher likelihood of inmates’ families moving to the area than with the women’s prisons.
Police chief Jay Varney believes that providing services for male inmates in the community may be beyond the means of both the city and Madera County as a whole.
“I think it’s fair to say that the average inmate’s family is in the lower income brackets and needs more social and other services,” Varney said.
According to Mayor David Alexander, there is the concern among prison employees that they may be relocated, retrained or even lose their jobs if one of the Chowchilla prisons transitions to being a male-oriented correctional facility.
This prompted Alexander to state his preference: “We don’t want a male prison.”