Local Activists, Architects Partner with Residents to Re-Purpose Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla
Debbie Reyes, California Prison Moratorium Project, 559-367-6020
Frank Fontes, California Prison Moratorium Project, 559-593-2436
Chowchilla, CA–This Saturday, June 2, Chowchilla marks a historic reverse of trend for Central Valley politics. In recent past, Central Valley communities competed to place prisons in their midst. This weekend, one town is organizing to see a prison site removed and re-purposed.
Residents are invited to help develop a plan to re-use Valley State Prison for Women for something other than locking people away. The planning meeting comes as a response to announcements from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that VSPW is no longer needed to house women. CDCR’s plan to convert Valley State to a prison for men is opposed by many local residents, people housed in the prison, and the city of Chowchilla and Madera County
“Saturday’s meeting is an opportunity for the people of Chowchilla to play a role in designing a plan to convert Valley State into something that will benefit Chowchilla,” said Debbie Reyes of California Prison Moratorium Project, one of the local organizers of the event. “We know that prisons are a drain on the state budget and on the local economies of their host communities,” Reyes continued. “We have a chance to close a prison and convert it to something positive.”
Another of the meeting’s organizers is Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility. Raphael Sperry of ADPSR talked about how the meeting will work. “No one knows what a city like Chowchilla wants and needs more than the people who live there. Our role on Saturday will not be to prescribe an answer, but to help those who come to the meeting to develop a vision that works for Chowchilla No special knowledge of the prison or of planning is needed to participate,” Sperry added. “The only things people need to bring to the meeting are their knowledge of Chowchilla and their willingness to work with others to create a shared vision of alternatives.”
In addition, the group will also discuss the possibility of reversing negative environmental and health impacts compounded by high volume traffic that support the prison. Sarah Sharpe, San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impact Project says, “Large facilities like prisons are an environmental and health burden on their communities because of the numerous impacts like increased air pollution due to high traffic volumes. We are hopeful that this opportunity to repurpose the facility will lessen the burden on Chowchilla, since we are already in one of the most polluted air basins in the nation.”
As CDCR moves quickly to convert Valley State, some advocates think plans are damaging to the State’s economy. “The Department is transferring people out of Valley State, proposing to build a new women’s prison, and expanding the men’s prison system to Chowchilla. This prison expansion is not financially sustainable. The State can and should be taking obvious steps to implement policies already in place to reduce the numbers of people locked in prisons,” said Cynthia Chandler of Justice Now, another meeting co-sponsor. “Many of the people locked in Valley State are excited to share at the meeting ideas for closing the prison down properly and have sent ideas to be shared at Saturday’s meeting.”
The event is open to all, is free of charge and will take place from 10:30 until 4:00 at Ronald Reagan Elementary School, 2200 South Lake Tahoe Dr in Chowchilla. For more information, contact Frank at 559-593-2436 or Debbie at 559-367-6020. Event sponsors include: California Prison Moratorium Project, Architects/Planners/Designers for Social Responsibility, Justice Now, San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project (SJV-CHIP), Central Valley Alternatives to Incarceration, and Californians United for a Responsible Budget.