Chowchilla women's prison will house men in 2013

CHOWCHILLA, Calif.

The state has confirmed Valley State Prison for Women will be used to house low to medium security male inmates. It's part of a plan to reduce overcrowding at men's prisons to meet a federal court order.

Many residents are not happy about the change, but hundreds of employees at the prison are.

More than three-thousand female inmates are currently housed at Valley State Prison for Women. But by July of 2013 it will house about three-thousand male inmates instead. The conversion will happen in phases, and women still serving time will move to the state's other two female facilities.

"We're a turnkey operation," said Lt. Gregory Bergersen. "We can just bring the men in. We have the security in place, we have the lethal fence, which there will be no change to, so it should be a seamless transition."

Lieutenant Gregory Bergersen says the change is welcome news to hundreds of employees who feared the prison would close, leaving them jobless. That's because the population of female inmates has been steadily dropping since October when the state ordered anyone convicted of non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual crimes serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prison.

Lt. Gregory Bergersen said, "It allows Valley State Prison to stay open, in lieu of closing, so that's going to save about 11 hundred jobs, which is a good thing for the community."

But many Chowchilla residents disagree. They worry male inmates are more dangerous and their families are more likely to move to the area than those of female inmates.

"I have a baby, she's only 15 months old," said Jessica Munoz. "And where I live it's safe & quiet, and I want it to stay safe and quiet."

Police Chief Jay Varney says he and other area law enforcement agencies are preparing for an increased demand for service. But he does not want people to panic.

Chief Jay Varney said, "Not everyone who comes with someone who is incarcerated is automatically assumed to be a bad influence on the community."

Action News has been contacted by family members of inmates who say they are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who are not a threat to the community.

Now as for the name of Valley State Prison for Women, it will also change with the conversion. But the new name has not yet been decided.

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