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Chowchilla Freedom Rally to draw hundreds of Bay Area residents to Central Valley to protest women’s prison

January 24, 2013

by Adrienne Roberts, California Coalition for Women Prisoners

San Francisco – Hundreds of Bay Area residents will be getting on buses and into cars Saturday morning, making the long trek to the Central Valley town of Chowchilla where they will join hundreds of other Californians from Los Angeles and the Central Valley at a Freedom Rally in protest of horrendous living conditions in the notorious prison, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). (Information on transportation and the time and place for the rally is below.)

Some participants have a loved one at the prison, others have spent time inside, while others are activists and residents working to shrink California’s massive prison system. All are concerned about the humanitarian crisis in CCWF and are demanding immediate release for as many people as possible.

Chowchilla Freedom Rally“We are traveling all the way from Oakland to the Valley to make the point that attempting to relieve the crowding crisis in men’s prisons by crowding women’s facilities is inhumane. You solve prison crowding by releasing people – period,” remarked Roger White, campaign director for Critical Resistance.

CCWF is at nearly 200 percent of its capacity, with 3,918 women and transgender prisoners packed into a facility designed to hold 2,000. Despite threats of retaliation, 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. People inside CCWF are calling the treatment of prisoners and their conditions gender discrimination and a violation of their civil and human rights.

“Californians should care about this issue because we are talking about the importance of people’s lives. People die because of the inadequate medical help,” says Theresa Martinez of Justice Now, who spent 23 years of her life locked in California prisons. “Taxpayers are paying to keep warehousing people instead of figuring out how to set them free.”

Against the wishes of residents in Chowchilla, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently converted VSPW into a men’s prison. Instead of releasing people and closing VSPW, the CDCR is squeezing over 1,000 women and transgender people into the two remaining women’s prisons, in addition to a newly opened section of Folsom prison.

“We are traveling all the way from Oakland to the Valley to make the point that attempting to relieve the crowding crisis in men’s prisons by crowding women’s facilities is inhumane. You solve prison crowding by releasing people – period,” remarked Roger White, campaign director for Critical Resistance.

Organizers of Saturday’s rally 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. The CDCR itself has noted that at least 4,000 prisoners held in women’s facilities could be released immediately.

“When we lock so many people up, it affects all of our communities, our families and our friends,” said Krys Shelley of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, who was imprisoned for over 12 years in Central Valley prisons. “We need California to pay attention. We should reevaluate cases, look at the sentencing laws, look at parole and release programs. Let’s bring our loved ones home.”

Despite mounting pressure to reduce the prison population, CDCR opens new women’s prison

Despite a declining crime rate and a drop in the number of people in prison, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opened a new prison facility on Jan. 16 – the 403-bed Folsom Women’s Facility.

“Opening 400 beds in Folsom and converting Valley State to a prison for men doesn’t solve the state’s crowding crisis,” said Debbie Reyes of the California Prison Moratorium Project. “CDCR has reverted to their old line that they can build their way out of any problem. Pretending to solve crowding through prison expansion is a proven failure as public policy. Experts know that. California voters know it. It is time for the governor and CDCR to stop living in the past. More cages wasn’t the answer 30 years ago. It isn’t the answer now.”

CCWF (Central Calif. Women's Facility) women in yard 040512 by Lea Suzuki, Chron
The friendships formed at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) are durable. Studies show women continue to support each other after their release. This photo was taken on April 5, 2012, before the current reshuffling and overcrowding. – Photo: Lea Suzuki, San Francisco Chronicle
The CDCR began moving men into the former Valley State Prison for Women (Chowchilla) in October 2012. A year ago, there were 2,664 people incarcerated at VSPW. The conversion of Valley State to a prison for men has created massive crowding at the state’s two remaining prisons for women. The population at California Institution for Women has increased from 1,633 in October 2012 to 1,983, while Central California Women’s Facility has seen an increase from 2,938 to 3,752.

“I am baffled by the decision to open a new women’s prison,” said Samantha Rogers of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, who served time in both VSPW and CCWF. “California needs to be opening halfway houses, not more prisons. It is no surprise we feel like cattle being moved around all over the state.”

In September 2011, prior to realignment, CDCR estimated there were around 4,500 people in women’s prisons eligible for release under the Alternative Custody Program (ACP), signed into law in 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. To date fewer than 200 hundred people have been released under this program.

The prison system expansion comes on the heels of attempts by the state to lift the federal court order to reduce deadly overcrowding in state prisons. Zuñiga continues, “Why aren’t we looking to proven parole and sentencing reform measures that have worked in other states, that could safely reduce overcrowding and allow California to shut down prisons like Valley State Prison and New Folsom.”

Organizers of Saturday’s rally 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.

Advocates have proposed a series of parole and sentencing reform measures to reduce incarceration rates and corrections costs. Examples include releasing Proposition 36 eligible Three Strikers, releasing terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated prisoners, implementing an older prisoner release program, expanding good time credits and reforming drug sentencing laws.

For reports on conditions in the state’s prisons for women, contact the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (415) 255-7036, ext. 314 and Justice Now (510) 839-7654.

Chowchilla Freedom Rally: When, where and how to get there

The Chowchilla Freedom Rally is this Saturday, Jan. 26, and many of us throughout the state of California are getting ready for what will undoubtedly be an empowering and impactful day. We can’t wait to be there with all of you to raise our voices loud enough to let our loved ones inside know they are not alone. Let’s make enough noise so that the decision makers in Sacramento have no choice but to hear our demands!

We are so inspired by the energy building around this rally. On Saturday in Oakland, we packed The Hold Out’s community room raising awareness (and money) about the injustices occurring in Chowchilla. The Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles is busy getting people to board the bus to Chowchilla or fund a seat.

CCWF Alicia Walters, Women's Policy Institute, Angela Davis visit women prisoners 2010
Alicia Walters of Women’s Policy Institute and prison abolitionist Angela Davis (first and second from left) visit prisoners at CCWF in 2010.
Across the country in Pennsylvania, Mumia Abu-Jamal recently shamed California’s Department of Corrections for the inhumane and unconstitutional overcrowding in Chowchilla’s prisons during his Prison Radio broadcast from State Correctional Institute Mahanoy. And in a beautiful act of international solidarity, the Global Women’s Strike in London is planning a protest and speak-out in front of Holloway Prison on Jan. 26 in support of the Chowchilla Freedom Rally and prisoners locked up in the U.K.’s women’s prisons.

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to sign up for a ride. Email chowchilla.rally@gmail.com or adrienne@womenprisoners.org or call (415) 255-7036, ext. 314.

Caravans leave from MacArthur BART in Oakland at 10:30 a.m. and Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood at 8:30 a.m. We will gather at 2 p.m. at the southeast corner of Avenue 24 and Fairmead Boulevard off Highway 99 in Chowchilla.

We will march to Central California Women’s Facility for the speak-out and press conference. The march is for less than one mile. Accessibility vans are available for folks who need them. The rally begins at 3 p.m. at VSPW.

Solidarity actions are encouraged!

Can’t make the benefit but want to donate? Contribute online at womenprisoners.org: CLICK and PLEDGE.

Solidarity actions are encouraged! If you cannot make the rally or do not live in California, we encourage you to organize a solidarity action on the same day in your community. Hold a demonstration in front of the Department of Corrections offices or the county jail, organize a speak-out against prisons in a public space, stand in solidarity with the Chowchilla Freedom Rally! Please let us know how we can support you! Contact info@womenprisoners.org.

The Chowchilla Freedom Rally Coalition includes members from California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Justice NOW, All Of Us Or None, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, Fired Up!, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project, Critical Resistance, Youth Justice Coalition, US PROStitutes Collective, California Prison Focus, Global Women’s Strike, Occupy 4 Prisoners, Asian Pacific Islander Support Committee, Communities Against the Prison Industrial Complex (CAPIC) and the California Prison Moratorium Project.

 

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3 thoughts on “Chowchilla Freedom Rally to draw hundreds of Bay Area residents to Central Valley to protest women’s prison

  1. MartinLutherKing jr

    We need to impeach the high CoonMander. I say we give all those saggy titted babboon she niggers guns in prison and let them take care of themselves.

    Reply
  2. STORMFRONT

    Cotton on the roadside, cotton in the ditch, pick that cotton you black son' Bitch. Daddy was a clansman a southern democrat, long white robes and funny lookin hats singin, song, song of the south. Whip a niggers ass and burn his house. Gone, gone with the wind, ain't no niggers comin back again.

    Reply

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