1,300 Jobs at Risk
State to Close Prison in Polk City
POLK CITY | Demilly Correctional Institution near Polk City and six other state prisons are scheduled to close this summer as part of a budget-tightening move related to a decline in prison admissions.
Four work camps also will close by July 1 as part of a statewide consolidation plan announced Thursday by the Department of Corrections. The state projects savings for the 2012-13 fiscal year of about $76 million. Nearly 1,300 jobs are at risk.
“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 (fiscal year) 2007-08,” the department said in a news release.
Demilly, with a staff of 118 and a capacity for 342 inmates, was established in 2008 to prepare inmates for work release. It’s the smallest of the seven prisons slated for closure and should not be confused with nearby Polk Correctional Institution, which has room for 1,200 inmates and will remain open.
Polk C.I. Warden Eduardo Rivera said he has the room to take in most of Demilly’s inmates and will “absorb as many of the staff as we can.”
Polk City Mayor Joe LaCascia said Demilly’s closure would have little impact on the city, which depends on Polk C.I. for an inexpensive labor pool to keep city properties cleaned and groomed.
“We have a labor contract with PCI,” he said. “It’s a very lucrative contract and a win-win for the state and the city.”
The largest facility set to close is New River Correctional Institution in Raiford, a part of the so-called Iron Triangle of prison facilities that surround Florida State Prison in northeast Florida.
New River C.I. comprises two separate units that hold 1,363 inmates. According to the plan, it’s slated for closure by March or April. Closure of just those two facilities would save the state an estimated $17.6 million next year.
Big savings would also be achieved by closing another large prison, Jefferson Correctional, in Monticello, just east of Tallahassee. That prison holds nearly 1,200 inmates, and its closure would save the state $10.2 million, the Corrections Department said.
Other facilities targeted for closure by the plan announced Thursday are Broward Correctional Institution in Fort Lauderdale; Gainesville C.I.; Hillsborough C.I. in Riverview near Tampa; Indian River C.I. in Vero Beach, and work camps in Gadsden, Washington, Hendry and Levy counties.
“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,” Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker said in a news release. “We are committed to placing as many affected staff as possible in vacant positions for which they are qualified.”
Tucker said individual facilities were evaluated for closing based on a scoring system that includes factors such as cost per inmate. Another was “community impact,” which counts the loss of business to local vendors.
State Rep. Alan Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee whose district encompasses River Junction Work Camp in Chattahoochee, and is home to employees at Jefferson C.I., blasted Gov. Rick Scott for masterminding the closure.
“In his State of the State speech earlier this week, Gov. Scott talked about protecting jobs,” Williams said in a Thursday news release. “His action reminds me of how so often we hear that government doesn’t create jobs. But in this case, it seems like government, or at least Gov. Scott, is destroying jobs for Floridians.”
Less than two years ago state lawmakers were bemoaning the fast-paced growth of Florida’s prison system, with state analysts predicting the need for nine new prisons costing $862 million by 2015.
Calls for reforms soon followed, with public policy and watchdog groups pushing for the reduction or elimination of mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, along with more drug courts and other sentencing alternatives.
[ Information from The News Service of Florida was used in this article. Ledger Reporter Eric Pera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7528. ]
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