Saturday afternoon at the Chowchilla Freedom Rally, hundreds protested overcrowding at Central California Women’s Facility. They used words like “torture.” One former prisoner said medical care is hard to find.
"It's very hard to get medical attention. When I was in here, I had problems getting my medication," said Sandra Johnson, a former inmate.
After the noise quieted, CBS47 was given special permission to film inside the prison, to see what it's really like. Prison staff hosted the tour, giving us access to speak freely with inmates.
“It's like everyone is in everybody's way and it causes problems. And we not trying to give the staff here no problems,” said Nora Lee McDonald, a 49-year-old inmate.
McDonald is one of about 3,700 inmates at CCWF. The prison was designed for about 2,000 inmates and is now over 180% occupied. It's one of the most over-capacity prisons in the state. It handles nearly double the women it was intended for by using bunk beds.
Eight women sleep in a typical room. There are four bunk beds, some lockers, a toilet, a shower and two sinks.
Miriam Elias used to be at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, but after the recent conversion to a men's facility, she moved here. Elias believes that transition was unfair because there's now less room for female prisoners, who she says, require more privacy and special considerations.
“Our monthly situations that we go through, and to have to beg and run around from unit to unit asking for a tampon is ridiculing and very degrading,” said Miriam Elias, an inmate.
Lt. Travis Wright says the prison population has been relatively constant for years, and last summer it was accredited by the American Correctional Association.
“They have full access to yard and programs throughout the entire day from to after ,” said Lt. Travis Wright, Public Information Officer.
Wright says even though the prison is over capacity, inmates have plenty of space to move around.
Staffing levels do not adjust with population changes, but some of the strain is currently being alleviated as women move to a prison in Folsom.