Fresno activist Debbie Reyes welcomed the protestors to the Central Valley and demanded an end to the harsh conditions at the Central California Women’s Facility near Chowchilla.

The Prison Press, April 2013: Appalling Living Conditions Still Plague Women’s Prisons

Boston Woodard
Boston Woodard

By Boston Woodard

California prisons are still plagued with numerous problems, and the state needs to take steps to solve serious issues, according to a recent protest rally at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) near Chowchilla opposing the living conditions at a women’s prison.

Rally speakers decried Gov. Jerry Brown’s claim that “the prison crisis in California is over” within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Julien Kiemle wrote in a commentary on the governor’s assertion, “Brown boasted that California has one of the finest prison systems in the United States. The mendacity of such a statement is nearly as appalling as the conditions it misrepresents.”

More than 400 people from all over California descended on the rural central valley town of Chowchilla to protest the horrendous conditions in the notorious prison, Central California Women’s Facility. Close to 4,000 women are warehoused in a facility designed for 2000. Photos by Bill Hackwell
More than 400 people from all over California descended on the rural central valley town of Chowchilla to protest the horrendous conditions in the notorious prison, Central California Women’s Facility. Close to 4,000 women are warehoused in a facility designed for 2000. Photos by Bill Hackwell

The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) organized the rally at the CCWF, which amassed more than 400 protesters to bring attention to the horrid conditions women are forced to live with at that facility.

The “Freedom Rally” protesters came from all over California, according to Californians United for a Responsible Budget, one of the concerned organizations keeping track of the prison situation throughout the state.

According to rally protesters close to women in the CCWF, overcrowding, inadequate medical and psychiatric care, unsanitary living conditions and poor staff/prisoner relations are alive and well behind the walls of California women’s prisons and something needs to be done immediately.

Fresno activist Debbie Reyes welcomed the protestors to the Central Valley and demanded an end to the harsh conditions at the Central California Women’s Facility near Chowchilla.
Fresno activist Debbie Reyes welcomed the protestors to the Central Valley and demanded an end to the harsh conditions at the Central California Women’s Facility near Chowchilla.

One of the issues of the Chowchilla rally was to protest the change of the Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) into a men’s prison. Last October, women prisoners were transferred to the CCWF and the California Institution for Women severely overcrowding those two facilities. The CCWP called conditions at the CCWF “inhumane and insufferable conditions.”

Protesters objected to “horrendous” conditions in the CCWF, where the women were relocated.

Women were crammed into an already overcrowded prison to the point where it went north of 185% of capacity.

According to Life Support Alliance, “As of Jan. 16, CDCR reported over 3,918 women housed in [the] CCFW alone, the highest level of overcrowding of any prison, male or female.”

Many of the protesters have loved ones at the CCWF. Some were ex-prisoners, and others were activists and locals looking to reduce California’s huge prison system.

Julio Marquez said, “We are traveling all the way from LA to the Valley to show solidarity between people on the outside and people on the inside.” Marquez is a youth organizer for Youth Justice Coalition who had two cousins in Central Valley prisons.

The Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) reports that 3,918 women are crammed into the CCWF, which is designed for only 2,000. More than 1,000 declarations from women inside claimed the lack of basic medical care, increased tension stemming from overcrowding, enhanced lockdowns, fewer jobs and rehabilitation programs, and limited access to legal resources. Gender discrimination and civil rights violations were also listed as issues.

“California should care about this issue because we are talking about the importance of people’s lives,” says Theresa Martinez of Justice Now. Martinez spent 23 years in California prisons.

The CDCR recently transformed the VSPW into a men’s prison. More than 1,000 women were re-housed in two other, already overcrowded prisons, instead of releasing eligible people through an alternative custody program (ACP).

According to Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “In 2011, CDCR itself noted that at least 4,500 prisoners held in women’s facilities could be released through the ACP program; to date, less than 200 have been.”

Rally protesters also demanded that elderly, terminally ill and permanently incapacitated prisoners be released to reduce overcrowding.

woodard-book-adKrys Shelley of the Coalition for Women Prisoners said, “We need California to pay attention. We should reevaluate cases, look at the sentencing laws, [and] look at parole and release programs. Let’s bring our loved ones home.”

For more information on CURB, e-mail emily@curbprisonspending.org or visit http://twitter.com/curbprisons.

*****

Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist. He writes for the Community Alliance and the San Quentin News and has written for the Soledad Star and edited The Communicator. He is the author of Inside the Broken California Prison System, which is available at Amazon.com. Learn more at www.brokencaliforniaprison.com.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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