Prison Tennis

Stefan Schneider, left, shares advice on his serve technique with San Quentin State Prison inmate Kenny Rogers in San Quentin, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

(The Center Square) - Under a 2022-23 state budget, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is launching a process to close prisons and deactivate facilities within others. One on the chopping block is  Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe , a city of 18,000, in eastern Riverside County, that is closing in March 2025.

“CDCR and the (Gov. Newsom) administration are working to minimize impact to staff and the communities,” according to a Dec. 6 release from the prison agency. “This will include options to transfer both within and outside of impacted counties, and identification of employees for redirection to neighboring prisons where there are existing identified vacancies. Incarcerated people at these locations will be rehoused into appropriate level prisons.”

Blythe City Councilman Johnny Rodriguez is skeptical over how closing the male-only prison there can proceed without major impacts to the rural community. He points to how the closure process began. “There was no community outreach before CDCR’s prison closing announcement on December 6,” he says. “It was a total surprise.” 

Kati Cusick, a small business co-owner who also helms the Blythe Area Chamber of Commerce, confirms his sentiment about the impact of closing Chuckawalla Valley State Prison on 1,000 people who work there and the city. “Some people think that this is going to kill our town,” she says.

George Thomas, Ph.D., is a retired educator and chair of the city’s advisory committee. “You would think that Blythe and the state of California would work as a team to find a solution,” he says. “The community is in kind of an uproar over the prison closing.”

According to Councilman Rodriguez, there are efforts underway from city officials to form an action plan in response to the prison closure news for other stakeholders. One is the Blythe business community.

In addition to the closure of Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, a Kern County prison run by CoreCivic, previously the Corrections Corporation of America, will close in 2024, according to the CDCR. The private company has a $32 million annual contract to operate the Kern County prison.

California’s 2022-23 budget also calls for the deactivation of facilities inside six other state prisons. They are Folsom Women’s Facility; Facility C in Pelican Bay State Prison; West Facility in California Men’s Colony; Facility A in California Rehabilitation Center; Facility D in California Institution for Men; and Facility D in California Correctional Institution.

Staffing these facilities are members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Politically influential at the state Capitol, the CCPOA, with 31,000 members, declined a request for comment.

Amber-Rose Howard helms Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a black-led statewide coalition of over 80 grassroots organizations. CURB seeks alternatives to the state prison system.

“It’s important that California continue this progress in reversing the state’s terrible history of prison expansion,” she says. “Now is the time to adopt a well-considered roadmap for future prison closures, one that center community investment and is informed by the experiences of people most harmed by incarceration.”