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Advocates Say Conditions At Women’s Prison In Chowchilla Remain Poor Following Huge COVID Outbreak

Aminah Elster is the policy coordinator at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and a formerly incarcerated person. She says the women inside the Chowchilla facility continue to tell her about unsafe living conditions even after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported the highest number of positive cases, 512, at the facility on Jan. 3. 


“The conditions are filthy. There’s dust everywhere, torn mattress, rusted bunks,” Elster says. “There’s little to no access to cleaning supplies.” 


Elster says the women inside the quarantine unit are also not receiving adequate medical treatment. In addition, Elster says, the facility doesn’t quarantine every patient who tests positive.


“In unit 512 for instance, if individuals test positive in that unit, there have been instances where they have been allowed to go back into that unit and coexist with other people that haven’t tested positive,” she says.


In a statement to KVPR, a spokesperson for CDCR denies these allegations and says isolated patients are given appropriate medical care and cleaning supplies.    


But Eugene Hernandez says his granddaughter, who is incarcerated at the facility, tells him otherwise.


“She tells me they’re not providing any medical care for the women who are quarantined,” he says. And he says his granddaughter is afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation by the prison staff. 


The conditions at the facility have also taken a serious mental toll on the women inside, Elster says, including her own mother-in-law who told Elster she was frightened she would catch the virus.


The CDCR spokesperson says incarcerated individuals may request mental health services at any time. 

Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.
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