TALLAHASSEE – Following up on his pledge to cut $1 billion from Florida’s prison budget and transfer that money to education, Gov. Rick Scott’s Department of Corrections Secretary, Ken Tucker, announced that his office will close seven state prisons and work camps by July 1.
Despite the closings, DOC insisted that no inmate would be released early, and they would be transferred to other facilities. There’s enough prison bed space available to meet Florida’s existing prison population, DOC noted.
“Declining prison admissions has led to a surplus of prison beds, allowing us to pare down our budget shortfall by consolidating and closing our older, less efficient facilities,” Tucker noted in the release.
As for the corrections officers, wardens and other staff members working at those seven prisons, Tucker said there would be an attempt to shift them to positions that are currently vacant.
“We are committed to placing as many affected staff as possible in vacant positions for which they are qualified,” he said.
Last year, Gov. Scott cited a reduction in crime in Florida as a reason to make the state prisons operate with more efficiency. He then proposed eliminating $1 billion from the prison budget. The governor’s office is targeting cuts in salaries for DOC employees and reductions in health care costs for inmates, which could include privatizing those services. The governor is also making a push to expand vegetable farms run by inmates — essentially asking those who are incarcerated to grow their own food.
The proposed closings are an ongoing part of these cost-saving measures.
The governor made it clear why the prisons were being targeted for those budget cuts: public anger over reductions in education spending this year, a trend the governor now says he plans to reverse.
In his 2012 State of the State Address on Jan. 10, called “Let’s Get to Work… Together,” Scott said, “After traveling the state and listening to parents, teachers … and our students, I heard one thing very clearly, over and over. Floridians truly believe that support for education is the most significant thing we can do to ensure both short-term job growth and long-term economic prosperity for our state.”
That’s why, the governor said, “My recommended budget includes $1 billion in new state funding for education.“
Florida now houses 102,000 inmates in 63 state prisons, and supervises more than 115,000 active offenders on community release supervision — the third largest prison system in the nation. But a falling crime rate gives the state a rare opportunity to find savings within the prison system, the governor’s budget report claims.
On Thursday, DOC issued a release on its web site noting that the closings were a part of fewer people being incarcerated.
“As a result of declining prison admissions and excess bed space, the Florida Department of Corrections will be closing seven prisons and four work/forestry camps by July 1, 2012, as part of a statewide consolidation plan,” the release notes. “No inmates will be released early as a result of this decision, and there will remain adequate bed space to accommodate projected prison admissions, which have steadily decreased since FY (fiscal year) 2007-08.”
The list includes several prisons in Central Florida, including the Demilly Correctional Institution in Polk City, the Hillsborough CI in Riverview near Tampa, and the Levy Forestry Camp near Lowell CI in Ocala.
The other prisons being closed are Broward Correctional Institution in Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville CI in Alachua County, Indian River CI in Vero Beach, Jefferson CI in Monticello and the New River East CI and the New River O-Unit CI work camp in Raiford.
In addition, River Junction Work Camp in Chattahoochee, Caryville Work Camp near Northwest Florida Reception Center in Washington County, and Hendry Work Camp in Immokalee will also be closed.
“Inmates will be relocated to institutions with vacancies that meet their custody, profile, health, education and risk assessment needs,” DOC noted.
To determine which prisons and facilities would be closed, DOC noted that Tucker assembled an “internal work group of subject matter experts, who developed criteria for evaluating facilities based on several factors.” They include what the mission of each facility is, the cost being spent there per inmate, maintenance and construction costs, the impact of a proposed closing on the employees working there and the surrounding community, inmate labor squads, security, education and programs, and volunteers.
“These criteria were vetted through a variety of public and private sector entities,” DOC noted. “The department employed quantitative measures to create an Institutional Scoring Sheet to objectively measure the pros and cons for each institution.”
For example, DOC determined that the closing of Demilly CI – which houses 342 work camp inmates — by June 1 would result in a savings to the state of $6 million.
Closing both the New River East and New River O prisons – which house 1,363 inmates – by March 1 and April 1 respectively, would save Florida’s government $17 million.
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