The City of Blythe is located in the heart of the desert along California’s eastern border and is relatively secluded from other urban areas. It is a rural community with few economic prospects. In 2020, the California State Auditor Dashboard ranked Blythe as 9th on the Distressed Cities Index, which ranks 430 California cities based on their financial health. Blythe’s residents are also challenged with the “Disadvantaged Community” label with a median household income of $49,235 and 22.4% of people living in poverty**. The Riverside County Grand Jury has gone as far as declaring that “Blythe is Dying”.
Chuckawalla Valley State Prison is Blythe’s second-largest employer, providing over 800 jobs to a population of 17,793 residents. If Chuckawalla were to close, the jobs and income spent in the community would be lost. The economic impact would be devastating.
It is also not clear how its facilities could be usefully repurposed by the State or private industries for that matter. Given that maintenance services would be required to keep Chuckawalla’s infrastructure from deteriorating, Chuckawalla’s closure would render these facilities a sunk cost for the State of California.
Further, the families of Chuckawalla inmates have made Blythe their home. With a lower cost of living (median home price of $219,528 vs. Norco’s $775,089), 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, and this could spell an intense financial burden for these families. Families of prison employees, many of which include Blythe’s teachers, public servants, and essential workers, would also have to relocate.
Finally, Chuckawalla plays a crucial role in maintaining Blythe’s Palo Verde Hospital. This hospital serves both Palo Verde Valley and La Paz County and is the only community hospital within 50 miles of Blythe. It is not clear that the hospital’s continued operations would be viable if Chuckawalla were to close.
On the other hand, CRC is located in the heart of California’s Inland Empire and is surrounded by several bustling economies. CRC plays a relatively less crucial role in sustaining the economy of its respective community. CRC has a very opportune location that is ideal for the repurposing of facilities, and this is evidenced by the fact that it is the location of The Norconian, a now-vacant Art Deco hotel.
In addition to better serving the State’s interests, closing CRC is also better aligned with the interests of Blythe residents who are – unlike nearly every other community – enthusiastic supporters of the prison in their community. This is in contrast to Norco residents, who have been advocating for the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center for years.