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The prisoners will serve their sentences at this five-year-old institution or at Valley State Prison, the nation's second-largest women's prison, which recently opened across the street. The compounds occupy the tiny farm town of Chowchilla, where almond and alfalfa groves surround the 50,000-volt electrified fence. To the crop dusters above, the flat gray-and-peach buildings must look like a giant corrections butterfly, shielding up to 8,000 women in the 1,340-acre spread of its cinder-block wings. The predominant types of offenses women tend to commit -- petty theft, check forgery, drug possession -- are nonviolent and low-level, yet women's rates of incarceration have steadily gone up, surpassing men's for the past 14 years. The…show more content…
Male inmates work their bodies constantly, doing hundreds of squat thrusts and jumping jacks even when restricted to a maximum-security cage. Women, who fear the central yard, work out their anxiety with too much sleep, food and prescription pills. Men's prisons divide the population by security level; women under minimum, medium and maximum security freely mix. Men tend to congregate by race, whether or not they prefer to in the free world. This is less true for women. Male gangs thrive in prison. Female gangs leave their colors on the street, some creating small families in prison -- with designated mothers, fathers, siblings -- for support. Rarely do men become intimate with their keepers. Many women share their lives with officers shift after shift after shift. Men either honor orders or defy them. Women ask why. Only 29 percent of the guards at the Central California Women's Facility are women. This fact worsens the already-ancient problems of troubled women, many of whom are accustomed to coercive relationships, when they are placed in a highly sexualized, paramilitary setting in the custody mostly of men. An ongoing investigation of state prisons by the Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project found that female inmates experienced some form of custodial sexual misconduct regardless of the prison or state; inappropriate sexual contact, verbal degradation, rape, sexual assault and unwarranted visual supervision were reported from California to New
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