The City of Chowchilla filed a petition for a Writ of Mandate Jan. 6 against California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in its decision to convert Valley State Prison for Women into a men's prison.
The conversion is part of the state's prison realignment plan, mandated by a federal court order to reduce the state inmate population in its 33 prisons to 137.5% of capacity by June 27, 2013.
The City of Chowchilla and other government agencies in Madera County believe the planned conversion will have a significant environmental impact on the community and region.
"The Chowchilla City Council feels it is imperative to take necessary steps to protect our community and our rural way of life from the state's planned prison conversion," said Chowchilla Mayor Janan Hebert. "It's unfortunate that we have to file papers in court in order to keep our neighborhoods secure but California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has left us with no other options."
The state's environmental review process was completed Dec. 5 with the filing of a Notice of Exemption.
"When the prison authorities were attempting to bring Valley State Prison for Women and Central California Women's Facility to Chowchilla back in the late '80s, they sold it to the community based on the difference between a male and female facility," said David Rogers, Madera County District 2 supervisor.
"In their own words, they stated that the inmate families would follow the male institution and typically do not follow the female institution. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised it would not be converted -- so much for promises from the state. This could completely change our way of life in Chowchilla.
"The impacts would be felt county-wide in the drain on general fund dollars due to district attorney prosecutions inside the facility, law enforcement needs and the social services being overwhelmed.
"There is no study which indicates we are wrong in our assessment of the conversion and its potential impacts. We do not want to be a part of a big experiment that fails. Madera County is being asked to shoulder a burden that no other county is experiencing in realignment."
The prison conversion is scheduled to happen in phases and be completed by July, 2013.
According to a prepared statement from the state department last month, the conversion will help alleviate the adult male inmate overcrowding problem and avoid staff layoffs at the institution. Female inmates, 3,171 women in Chowchilla as of last month, will go across the road to the Central California Women's Facility and to the California Institution for Women in Corona.