State correction officials presented their conversion plan at a public meeting in the Madera County government center. "We won't be seeing the same number of female inmates coming into our institutions," said Dana Toyama, spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla will be used to house low-to-medium security male inmates beginning in 2013. This comes from a federal court order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. Those serving time in a penal institution for non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crimes will be transferred to county jails. The Department of Corrections says this attrition process would reduce the number of female inmates at state prisons. "We've decided instead of closing a prison or building a prison, we've decided to convert Valley State Prison," said Toyama.
But county officials say converting the women's prison into a male facility will place a greater burden on public safety resources. "There will be impacts to local law enforcement. There will be impacts to the District Attorney's office. There will be impacts to social services and school and those impacts need to be addressed," said Madera County Supervisor David Rogers.
Many county leaders voiced their concerns at the meeting attended by a dozen residents. The Madera County District Attorney is a major opponent of the conversion plan. The D.A.'s office oversees the crimes committed inside the prison. They expect to see an influx of crimes inside the facility because of the male population.
"If it cost me another $656,090 to staff up in order to accommodate the number of cases that are occurring just within the prison facility alone, not mentioning anyone outside the prison, that's a significant expense the county is going to have to absorb somehow or another," said District Attorney Michael Keitz.
State officials insist public safety will not be hindered due to the conversion. They said they'll work with community members who moved to Chowchilla for a change of life. "They are folks who have renounced their gang affiliations and tend to want to do their time in quiet and peace, and have the lowest violence rates in our prison system," said a corrections official.
State officials plan to hold more public meetings before they complete the conversion process by July of 2013.