Chowchilla Inmates Suffer within Solitaire Confinement and Overcrowding
Women in Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) are reporting being held in solitaire confinement for months, following the closure of Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) for use as a male facility. CCWF, which is located just down the road from the former VSPW, is now one of three female facilities in California. Due in part to the closure of VSPW, CCWF is currently at 174.9 percent capacity, housing approximately 1,500 more people than it was designed for.
Despite threats of retaliation against the inmates, prisoner advocacy organizations Justice Now and California Coalition for Women Prisoners received over 1,000 declarations from people inside CCWF and the nearby Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) highlighting a lack of basic medical care, increased tension and conflicts among prisoners due to crowding, increased lockdowns, and seriously reduced access to jobs, programs and legal resources. Those on the inside describe their conditions as gender discrimination and a violation of their civil and human rights.
Among the individuals arriving from VSPW are an unknown number of women who have been held in Administrative Segregation upon the closure of VSPW in January. Six months ago, the programming inmates at VSPW were told they would be housed in Ad Seg for a period of 10 days pending proper placement due to the re-purposing of VSPW to a male facility.Prisoners received over 1,000 declarations from people inside CCWF and the nearby Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) highlighting a lack of basic medical care, increased tension and conflicts among prisoners due to crowding, increased lockdowns, and seriously reduced access to jobs, programs and legal resources. Those on the inside describe their conditions as gender discrimination and a violation of their civil and human rights.
“Inmates that are disruptive to other inmates or victimized by other inmates are temporarily segregated from the inmate population by being placed in housing areas known as Administrative Segregation Units (ASU) while employees investigate the level of threat to the prison or inmate,” reports the California Office of the Inspector General.
While the Office of the Inspector General found that, in 2009, the average length of stay in Ad Seg at CCWF is approximately two months, several women have written to Solitary Watch reporting that they’ve been held in isolation for over three months.
One female prisoner was placed in Ad Seg after “being seriously assaulted by three inmates.” Serving a life sentence, she is afraid of being hurt if released into general population. Like other women with safety concerns, the lady raised the fact that there are no Protective Housing Units (PHUs) for women, as there are for men. The PHU for men is located at California State Prison, Corcoran, and unlike Ad Seg units, men in the PHU are able to (according to the LA Times) “rub elbows, play board games and devise elaborate legal strategies they hope can one day set them free.”
However, because women don’t have this option, they must either accept an indeterminate term in isolation or risk assault in the general population. The option of an indeterminate SHU term would limit a prisoners ability to earn “good time credits” and because of the absence of meaningful programming in SHUs (even for individuals there for their own protection) most of the inmates become distressed.
On Saturday, January 26 2013, a rally in Chowchilla was organized to protest the living conditions inside the prison.
Organizers are demanding that VSPW be closed altogether and that the state respond to crowding at CCWF by releasing prisoners through alternative custody programs and early parole for elderly people and grant compassionate release for terminally ill people and medical parole for permanently incapacitated prisoners.
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