Chowchilla residents fear inmate switch

FRESNO, Calif.

The proposal to convert the women's prison to a men's facility is on hold because of a legal challenge filed by the City of Chowchilla earlier this year. In the meantime, people in Fairmead are joining in on the opposition.

Some Fairmead residents believe the conversion could lead to an influx of women and children who may follow the medium security male inmates to the community. "That's a bigger burden on the community, on the county. So we're already not getting a lot of support here that this county needs to take care of itself and the community," said Fairmead resident Barbara Nelson.

A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the conversion is necessary because prison realignment is shrinking the number of female inmates. "The balance of the inmates has also changed. What this means is we need to reorganize where inmates are being housed in order to make the most efficient use of the prison system we have," said spokesperson Jeffry Callison.

Representatives from California Prison Moratorium Project, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, and Oakland-based Justice Now joined Fairmead residents for the community meeting in Monday evening. Justice Now advocates for women inmates. Representative Courtney Hooks said the conversion would impact inmates and their neighbors in Fairmead. "It's completely skipping over what the people in the area, what the people who are directly impacted by this proposal are saying and what they deserve and what their needs are," said Hooks.

Those at Monday's meeting want to see the prison turned into something else, like an agricultural research center or a bonding warehouse. Those alternatives may seem like longshots, but if there is a change, opponents want it to benefit Fairmead and Madera County.

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