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For many newcomers in rapidly-growing Chowchilla, life is a bit confining

New population estimates released today by the state show the Central Valley town of Chowchilla continuing to grow at a rapid clip -- 8.7 percent last year, the second-fastest growth of any community in California, behind McFarland, another valley town, at 8.9 percent.

The explanation: Huge increases in the inmate populations at the two state prisons for women there, which go toward the town's numbers.

Chowchilla, home to Valley State Prison and the Central California Women's Facility, had barely 11,000 people in 2000. It's population today is above 19,000. And, yes, three of the four fastest-growing communities in California, including McFarland and Calipatria in the Imperial Valley, are prison towns.

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