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A woman serving time in the Sonoma County Jail claimed in court papers filed Monday that she and other women prisoners are the victims of gender discrimination because they are no longer allowed to stay in the less-restrictive North County Detention Facility.

Charr Treadway, 42, said her constitutional right to equal protection is being violated by a shift in Sheriff's Office policy that confines all women to the higher-security main jail on Ventura Avenue in Santa Rosa.

Treadway said that while men at the North County facility on Ordinance Road enjoy dormitory living and face-to-face visitation, she is confined to a small cell for most of her days and must speak to her two young children through a thick, glass partition.

Treadway is asking a judge to enforce a previous court order requiring the sheriff to operate a minimum-security honor farm for women or release her from custody until the "invidious discrimination" is ended.

"It is impermissible that the women of the Main Adult Detention Center in general and the petitioner specifically are not afforded the benefits of equal protection of the laws," said a petition filed by her lawyer, Walter Risse. "The court must end the discrimination."

The north county operation was closed to women in 2010, in part as a cost-cutting measure. All women, regardless of risk classification, were moved into segregated modules at the main jail, which also houses medium- and maximum-security male prisoners.

The move was seen as a way to reduce staff time and help absorb about $20 million in cuts.

But because of physical limits at the main jail and a population that includes people with mental health disorders and rival gang members, activities for women are limited.

Sheriff's Capt. Randall Walker, who oversees the jail, said there were no immediate plans to send women to the north county facility.

He said women get more rehabilitative programming then men and get all the required state mandates on visitation and out-of-cell time.

Walker said the county spends 40 percent of jail program dollars on women and they make up 14.8 percent of the population.

There are 171 women housed at the main jail, while the jail houses 981 men, including 385 at the north county facility.

Treadway, who is serving four years for theft and drug offenses, said her out-of-cell time can be as little as 30 minutes a day. Access to direct sunlight is limited and exercise areas are small, she said.

Visitation with family members is also an issue, she said. Visits occur in an undersized booth and there are limits based on height about how many children can come, she said.

Visitation booths hold two people but if one adult has two kids and one is no taller than the counter, both may visit at same time.

At the north county facility, prisoners live in dorms with up to 60 people. She said prisoners have at-will access to outside areas for recreation, fresh air and sunshine.

Also, the visitation policy is more relaxed. Inmates sit opposite their families at dining tables without glass barriers, according to her petition.

Her lawyer said the disparity violates a 1984 order from Judge John Gallagher to end "similar issues of unequal treatment." Gallagher ordered construction of the facility for women and said the county must "operate, maintain and staff" it, Risse said.

But that isn't happening. The north county center continues to be male-only, Risse said. In a head count from earlier this year, more than 120 women inmates would have been eligible for placement there if they were men, according to court papers.

Risse said he filed the writ of habeas corpus, demanding a hearing before a judge, after Treadway attempted to get more time out of her cell and increased visits with her children.

Both requests were denied by jail officials. She is expected to remain in custody until March 2016.

Treadway is serving her sentence in a county jail instead of prison under the statewide prison realignment.

"This housing is unsuitable for inmates serving sentences for longer than a few months," Risse said in court documents.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.