Two Florida prisons enter the history books.

The New River O Unit Correctional Institute is among seven state prisons that are being shut down by the Florida Department of Corrections. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Corrections has officially closed two state work camp prisons, and has issued a notice to the family members and friends of inmates that used to be housed to find out where they were relocated.
DOC just closed the Caryville Work Camp, located in Washington County on the Florida Panhandle. The camp had gotten some recognition last year when Caryville Work Camp was given the Community Advocate of the Year Award during the Guardian ad Litem Awards Reception in Orlando on Sept. 7, 2011. Officer Mark Whitaker and Judicial Circuit Program Recruiter Trainer Theresa Roberts accepted the award on behalf of the prison that is now gone.
Caryville Work Camp had been housing 133 inmates.
The state has also closed the Levy Forestry Camp in Bronson, a town in Levy County. It had been housing 292 inmates.
DOC posted a notice on its Web site that another nine prisons are being closed this spring, and that family members and friends who regularly visit inmates at any of these prison should be aware that they will soon get transferred.
“All family members and visitors should have been notified about the closures via the inmate they are approved to visit,” DOC noted. “If you are an approved visitor for an inmate at any of these locations, please verify before visiting that you are going to the correct location. All transfers will be completed by July 1, 2012.”
The remaining prisons that are being closed are Broward Correctional Institution, Demilly CI, Gainesville CI, Hendry Work Camp, Hillsborough CI, Indian River CI, New River East CI, the New River O-Unit Work Camp, and River Junction Work Camp.
Despite the closing, and the relocation of the inmates housed there, DOC notes that it continues to encourage family and friends to visit someone they know who is incarcerated.
“The Department of Corrections encourages visitation between inmates and their loved ones,” the DOC Web site notes. “We recognize the importance of the continuation of family relationships during incarceration.”
Inmates are given up to 15 copies of visitor applications once they reach their permanent location, and the inmates are responsible for sending the applications to any family member or friends they want to be considered for placement on their visiting list. The completed applications are sent to the prison’s Classification Department, and visitors are given a background check.
The warden at each prison has the final say on approving or rejecting visitor applications.
As DOC has noted, visitation is not a right granted to anyone.
“Visitation is a privilege and as such is subject to suspension/revocation if circumstances dictate,” DOC notes in its rules. That suspension can include a family member or friend who shows up wearing inappropriate clothing.
DOC urges visitors to “dress conservatively. The following is a list of some of the clothing deemed inappropriate: Tank tops, skin tight or spandex clothing, shorts that are more than 3 inches above the knee, skirts, fish net style clothing, clothing with offensive language/pictures, military style camouflage clothing to include jungle (green), urban (grey or black), and desert (tan or brown), and see-thru clothing.”
Visitors are allowed to bring no more than $50 to the prison, and cell phones are banned on the prison grounds.
Last December, DOC Secretary, Ken Tucker announced that his office would close these prisons and work camps in 2012, but that no inmate would be released early as a result, but would be transferred to other facilities. DOC has insisted there is enough prison bed space available to meet Florida’s existing prison population.
“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.
The closures are expected to save the state nearly $15 million for the rest of this fiscal year, and almost $76 million in the next fiscal year, while 1,293 full-time jobs are being eliminated.
It’s a part of Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to eliminate $1 billion from the state’s prison budget.
Florida now houses 102,000 inmates in 61 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 has given the state a rare opportunity to find savings within the prison system, the governor’s budget report claims.
Only three of the prisons being shut down are in Central Florida: Demilly CI in Polk City, Hillsborough CI in Riverview near Tampa, and Levy Forestry Camp, which was close to Ocala in neighboring Marion County.
DOC has not provided details about the closings to the news media, and in January, the state agency based in Tallahassee turned down Freeline Media’s request to interview administrators and correctional staff at Demilly CI prior to the closing.
“Unfortunately, we must be pretty closed-mouthed about all of this due to security,” noted Jo Ellyn Rackleff, spokeswoman for DOC, in an email to Freeline Media. “We don’t like to discuss transfer of inmates in any detail due to the possibility, for example, of such road transfers be interrupted in an escape attempt.”
DOC did issue a statement noting that “Inmates will be relocated to institutions with vacancies that meet their custody, profile, health, education and risk assessment needs.”
It’s not clear what will happen to special work programs now offered at the prisons being shut down. New River O-Unit, for example, had the ADAPT program, which bring in dogs from a nearby Humane Society office. The dogs live in the prison dorms with inmates who trained them to be more obedient and people-friendly.
Sgt. Ryan Mason, a corrections officer at New River O-Unit who supervised the ADAPT program, said in an email to Freeline Media that he was hoping a neighboring prison in the area between Starke and Gainesville would take it over.
“As of now there are many unanswered questions,” Mason wrote. “I know that the Humane Society that we use are currently working with Lawtey Correctional and UCI (Union Correctional Institute) to start programs there. They will probably use a different name than ours, but I am not sure. I know a few inmates have put in transfers to go to other institutions where there are programs” like ADAPT.
ADAPT stands for Adoptable Dogs After Prisoner Training, and it’s a collaboration between the Humane Society of Northeast Florida, Inc., a shelter in Putnam County, and the New River O-Unit. The concept is simple: the inmates train the dogs to become more obedient and friendlier with people, while the inmates learn a potentially valuable work skill.
ADAPT also ends up saving the lives of animals that might otherwise be euthanized because local shelters are full and the number of families looking to adopt them is too small.
DOC is still advertising on its Web site several dogs that are available to be adopted, and that graduated from the New River O-Unit ADAPT program, including Rolanda, a female lab/shepherd mix; Frisky, a male shepherd mix; Lexi, a female rotti mix; and Eclipse, a female hound mix.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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