Chowchilla fears prison changes

FRESNO, Calif.

Madera County Supervisor David Rogers puts it this way, "Chowchilla is much like, if I can compare it, like Mayberry, used to be on the Andy Griffith show many years ago."

Like Maybery, if Aunt B is in behind bars.

Seven thousand women are locked up in the Central California Women's Facility and its neighbor the Valley State Prison for Women. But those numbers are likely to drop.

The Department of Corrections is expected to start releasing some woemn early. It's part of a plan to reduce the prison population and find better sources of treatment for women who are mothers and nonviolent offenders, with less than two years remaining on their sentence. But, emptying the women's prison has raised concerns among some in Chowchilla that the prison will be turned into a men's prison.

Chowchilla city administrator Mark Lewis is among those with worries. "We have a very wonderful community in Chowchilla and people are fearful that it's going to change dramatically for the worse."

While statistics show that most women in prison don't even receive visits from family members; there is a perception the families of male inmates tend to move close to prisons.

Doug Papagni is the director of Madera County's Resource Agency, and is the former head of the county's jail. "We all know there will be an impact on our community by converting a women's prison into a men's facility."

Rogers said, "We're concerned about the impacts of crime and drugs and gang activity in our community."

Dana Toyama a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections told Action News that's a popular misconception. She says only from 1% to 4% of male inmates families relocate to be near them. Toyama also says the concerns about male inmates moving into the women's prison are unfounded. She told Action news "No decision has been made on conversion of the women's facility." But, Chowchilla City and Madera County officials are not assured. They want the state to assure their community will be compensated for the additional law enforcement and social services costs they believe will occur if and when women are moved out and men are moved in.

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