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Women's prison in Chowchilla to house male inmates instead

December 9, 2011 | 11:57 am

In a sign of the vast changes in California's prison system, the state department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Friday that it will convert a women's prison in Chowchilla to one that will house medium- and low-security male inmates.

The switch is one of the most visible signs of the impact of a new state policy that sends most nonviolent, nonsexual offenders to county jails and probation departments rather than the state's overcrowded prison system.

A federal court has ordered the state to reduce its prison population to a mere 137% of capacity by June 2013. The prisons are currently at about 170% of capacity.

However, the number of inmates has dropped precipitously since the new policy kicked in on Oct. 1. According to corrections department statistics, the population has dropped 5%.

The department expects a continued drop in female inmates, according to its statement. Valley State Prison for Women, for example, was down about 10% since October, to 3,171. It will house a similar number of male inmates, the department says.

Overall, female inmates in the system are expected to drop from 9,400 to 5,700.

However, local law enforcement officials across the state have complained that the new inmates they have to take on are quickly overwhelming their jails and probation systems.


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-- Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: Sandra Wittle styles Crystal Howe's hair at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, a prison now designated to house male prisoners instead. Photo credit: Robert Durrell / Los Angeles Times