Supervisors Voice Opposition to State’s Planned Closure of Blythe Prison

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The planned closure of Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe would be “devastating” to the community and should be tabled in preference to a full closure of the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, according to a resolution approved Tuesday by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

“I wouldn’t normally be trying to keep prisons open, but this is the economic lifeblood of the city of Blythe,” said Supervisor Manuel Perez, whose Fourth District encompasses the Palo Verde Valley. “There’s a lot of support to keep it open. The city is losing population on a yearly basis. There’s a lack of economic development in the area. There are just so many reasons why this prison should still be open.”

The board unanimously directed that its opposition to the planned March 2025 closure be conveyed to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the governor’s office.

The CDCR announced in December that Chuckawalla and the leased CoreCivic prison in California City were slated for shutdown. The CRC in Norco, meanwhile, was listed as one of a half-dozen correctional facilities where piecemeal or partial de-activations are planned.

The CDCR said the changes were associated with the state budget process “with an eye toward fiscal responsibility.”

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin and Sheriff Chad Bianco last month voiced opposition to any closures statewide given the crime epidemic and the overcrowded conditions in counties’ jail facilities, where they said offenders are routinely turned loose due to lack of correctional bed space.

The board did not take aim at that subject, but instead looked at what Supervisor Karen Spiegel said were the “economic, emotional and financial” impacts stemming from the planned closures.

“Close the older prison. Norco is older,” she said of the CRC. “It will be hard for Norco, but devastating to Blythe. Hopefully we can get the message to Sacramento that it isn’t common sense to keep the Norco facility open and close the one in Blythe.”

As of now, the state only intends to shutter Facility A at the Norco prison, which has dormitories that date back to World War II. Some inmates would have to be moved when the closure takes effect next year, but the number wasn’t specified, nor were the workforce impacts.

All of Chuckawalla Valley State Prison is slated for closure, and the entire inmate population would be absorbed into other prisons. Spiegel said the city of Norco, which is in her Second District, is not as concerned over the fate of the CRC as the residents of Blythe are about Chuckawalla.

The CDCR said that it “took into account several factors, including cost to operate (and) impact of closure on the surrounding communities” before making a decision on which facilities to shutter.

The Norco site has a capacity of roughly 2,500 inmates, while Chuckawalla’s is just under 2,000, according to the CDCR. But Perez noted that recent Legislative Analyst figures showed the CRC needs $1.1 billion in infrastructure improvements, compared to $430 million for Chuckawalla.

The supervisor pointed out that Palo Verde College counts on business from the prison, as does Blythe’s Palo Verde Hospital.

“The families of CVSP inmates have made Blythe their home,” the board resolution states. “With a lower cost of living, Blythe makes it financially feasible for inmates and their families to stick together. Closing Blythe and relocating inmates would mean the families of inmates would also have to move to stay near their loved ones.”

According to the supervisor’s office, Blythe has been classified by the Office of the California State Auditor as a “distressed city,” with few economic prospects on the horizon.

The Blythe City Council has also expressed unanimous opposition to the planned closure.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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