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Chowchilla Freedom Rally
These photos are from the Freedom Rally held at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), near Chowchilla. About 400 people marched to protest the horrendous living conditions in this notorious prison.
Here is background information on the rally from a press release issued earlier today from Californians United for a Responsible Budget:
Just weeks after Governor Brown declared that "the prison crisis is over in California," hundreds of people from all over the state will be getting on buses and into cars Saturday morning, making the trek to Chowchilla. They will join hundreds of Californians from Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere in the Central Valley at a Freedom Rally in protest of horrendous living conditions in the notorious prison, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).
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.
“We are traveling all the way from LA to the Valley to show solidarity between people on the outside and people on the inside.” remarked Julio Marquez, a Youth Organizer for Youth Justice Coalition who has two cousins that have been locked up in Central Valley prisons.
CCWF is at 186% 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. 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 (ACP), parole for elderly people, and grant compassionate release for terminally ill people and medical parole for permanently incapacitated prisoners. 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 then 200 have been.
“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 locked up 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.”
Follow the Chowchilla Freedom Rally on twitter @curbprisonspending.org and #freedomrally, #chowchilla and #closevspw.
1322 Webster St. #210
Oakland, CA 94612
Californians United for a Responsible Budget
emily [at] curbprisonspending.org
The march took place next to the prison, which is surrounded by farmland.
All photos by Mike Rhodes
There were some wonderful speakers too.