State halts Chowchilla prison switch

Date of Alert: 
Thursday, January 26, 2012


State halts Chowchilla prison switch

Women inside Valley State have been fighting against this conversion -- making Valley State a men's prison will subject the women to even more overcrowding.  This temporary injunction was a good victory, spearheaded by Justice Now.  

California corrections officials have agreed to temporarily halt a
conversion of Chowchilla's Valley State Prison for Women into a men's

It was welcome news in the city, which is waging a legal battle over
the project in Madera County Superior Court.

"This is the first step at attempting to have the state keep its
promise to Madera County and our community," said Mark Lewis, city
manager. "They made the promise that if they were going to do a
conversion, they would do an environmental impact review so the
public can have input. To this day they've done everything to avoid

Tension concerning the planned conversion heightened after prison
officials filed a California Environmental Quality Act exemption to
bypass an impact study the city was requesting.

The city responded in court by challenging the self-granted exemption.

However, while the court decides whether the conversion must undergo
an environmental study, there was concern that prison officials were
continuing the physical conversion of the facility.

Paperwork was being filed but no actual construction was taking
place, said Dana Toyama, spokeswoman for the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"We've been saying we want to work with the county and the city on
this issue," she said. "This agreement is a concrete example of that
cooperation. We'll continue to work with the city of Chowchilla in
whatever way we can."

The Department of Corrections has agreed to delay the conversion at
least until Sept. 1, after a Superior Court judge is set to rule on
whether the conversion is subject to the environmental quality act.

"The hard work will be showing the court that the self-granted
exemption wasn't valid," Lewis said. "That's the work ahead of us. A
little bit of a David-and-Goliath deal here."

City officials have voiced concern that bringing male prisoners to
the area also will bring an influx of families that will put
significant stress on local resources.

Prison officials have denied this claim and presented a limited
analysis to support their position, but an official impact study
hasn't been conducted.

The first hearing on the city's legal challenge is planned for the
middle of February.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or


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