CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Would-be presidential assassin Lynette ''Squeaky'' Fromme and many other prisoners have been transferred in a major shuffling of female inmates in the federal prison system, officials said Wednesday.

Prisons in West Virginia, Kentucky, California and Florida were most affected by the transfers, which began this month, corrections officials said.

A growing female prison population - partially caused by an increase in the number of women convicted of drug crimes - is forcing the government to shift inmates and open more facilities, prison officials said.

Fromme and four other women were moved from the high-security unit of the federal prison in Lexington, Ky., on Friday when the unit was shut down. The Lexington facility is being converted into an all-female medium- and minimum- security prison.

Fromme, a follower of cult leader Charles Manson, and two others were transferred to a new high-security unit of the Marianna Federal Correctional Institution in Florida. One was sent to a California prison, and federal officials refused to identify the fifth inmate or where she was sent.

The all-female medium- and high-security facility inside the Marianna prison, known as the Shawnee Unit, had received 23 other women as of Wednesday - 15 from the Alderson Federal Correctional Institution in West Virginia, seven from the Pleasanton Federal Correctional Institution in California and one direct commitment, officials said.

It eventually will house about 55 inmates and will remain separate from a all-female low-security camp and a medium-level men's prison that is under construction, authorities said.

''It looks like a combination of an old Roman coliseum and a garish modern office building,'' Fromme said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Marianna, in Florida's panhandle. ''There's so much concertina wire it looks like they went into the hardware business.''

Fromme said the first floor of the Shawnee Unit was flooded Tuesday by rain. A prison spokeswoman said she wasn't aware of flooding but acknowleged some minor problems with the new facility.

''It's like when you buy a new house, you work the bugs out,'' said spokeswoman Jama Acuff.

Many of the women believed they were being transferred to a nicer facility and some volunteered to go to Florida, said Fromme, who is serving a life term for attempting to kill then-President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Alderson, where Fromme spent 10 years before being moved to Lexington after she escaped from the West Virginia prison last year, is being turned into a less secure ''camp'' facility, said Warden Ron Burkhart.

''We're currently reviewing all of our inmates to see who can reasonably remain in a camp-type setting,'' Burkhart said.

In addition to Marianna, Alderson high-risk inmates could be sent to federal prisons in Danbury, Conn., or Pleasanton, Calif., he said. About 35 percent of the inmates at Alderson are serving time for drug trafficking offenses, Burkhart said.

A female satellite camp at an all-male prison also is under construction in Phoenix, Ariz., officials said.