House: Keep Prison in Rural County Open by David Royse

Posted: February 17, 2012 in News and politics

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Could Jefferson Correctional Institution Stay Open? 2-8 Noon
The House on Wednesday voted unanimously to move $10 million around in the budget in an effort to keep a Jefferson County prison open, acknowledging the hardship its closure would have on the rural community.

The House voted to approve an amendment that earmarks the money for the prison system with the idea that it will keep open Jefferson Correctional Institute, which would keep 177 jobs in a rural north Florida county where the prison is the largest employer.

When the House voted by voice vote in favor of the amendment, residents of the tiny county next door to the capital area, who were already standing in the gallery during debate on the issue, erupted in cheers.

“I realize that we need to close some prisons, we have too many prison beds,” said Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, who represents many of the prison employees. “But the human cost is going to be unbearable,” if that particular prison closes.

The Department of Corrections announced recently that it would find cost savings by closing 11 prison facilities around the state including Jefferson C.I., near Monticello.

Being near to the capital city, the residents of the tiny community jumped into action, and several of them attended legislative committee meetings to urge lawmakers to do something to block the agency’s effort to close the prison. The county hired lobbyists and several area lawmakers pushed to keep the prison open.

The county’s residents were heard, said Rep. Denise Grimsley, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, who sponsored the amendment.

Grimsley, R-Sebring, said the math and the spreadsheets used by the Department of Corrections to target Jefferson C.I. for closure may have been right. But she said despite that, there was a fundamental sense that it would be wrong to close the prison.

“We heard from the people of Jefferson County,” said Grimsley. “I’d be the first to tell you that government is not in the business of creating jobs. But we’re also not in the business of devastating communities.”

The amendment also puts proviso language into the budget that says the Department of Corrections must “re-evaluate its consolidation plan and adjust its facility rankings so that no prison may be closed that is in a county designated a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern and has a population of less than 15,0000 as determined by the 2010 Census.”

The Senate budget is still taking shape, and the issue would have to be addressed there as well. Sen Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said earlier in the day that he is doing whatever he can to get the same item into the Senate budget.

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Press Release from State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

February 8, 2012

Legislators Grant Reprieve to Jefferson Correctional Institute

Tallahassee – The families of more than 170 employees of Jefferson Correctional Institute (JCI) have reason for hope for the future, following action by the Florida House of Representatives today to restore funding to the institution. JCI is one of seven prisons the Department of Corrections (DOC) had slated for closure. JCI is unique among the prisons DOC wanted to close because it is the largest employer in one of Florida’s poorest counties. Within a budget amendment offered by the Appropriations Chair, Denise Grimsley, is also money to fund a study to help counties like Jefferson become more economically diverse so this crisis might be avoided in the future. Rep. Grimsley’s amendment amended a budget proposal by Rep. Leonard Bembry, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, and Rep. Alan Williams and found money in the budget to keep Jefferson County whole. The Florida House of Representatives voted favorably on the amendment to the amendment. The Senate and the Governor must also agree for Jefferson County to truly have a reprieve.

“The people of Jefferson County made a compelling case to save the prison. Appropriations Committee Chair Denise Grimsley deserves special thanks for her leadership,” says State Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda. “Representatives Grimsley not only listened to the stories of the good citizens from Jefferson County, but understood the long term economic devastation this closure would have caused in one of Florida’s smallest and most fiscally constrained counties that has little economic diversity. This action by the Florida House to save Jefferson County from being a ghost town gives hope to the people of Florida that Republicans and Democrats can work together to solve tough problems.”

Representative Leonard Bembry also applauds the House action. “I know how hard these people work and how much they love their community,” says Representative Bembry, who along with Rehwinkel Vasilinda represents Jefferson County. “I live in a rural county; I have worked hard for rural counties and understand the problems this closure would have created for every small business in the area. The House action is a positive step toward the future.”

Rep. Alan Williams cautions, “Our efforts to save these jobs won’t be over until the Senate acts, and the Governor signs the budget into law. It’s going to take continued bi-partisan effort that this restored funding stays in the budget. This legislative delegation is committed to following through and making sure Governor Rick Scott understands the unique problems that confront small counties in this economically trying time.”

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Feb.8, 2012 – 4:32 p.m.

The amendment passed unanimously earlier this afternoon.

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Feb.8, 2012 – Noon

A new amendment to the Florida House budget is set to be introduced.
It could have a big impact on whether or not Jefferson Correctional Institution stays open.

If passed, the amendment to the budget would move $10,000,000 into the Department of Corrections budget. There will also be $50,000 set aside for an economic impact study on the prison closures. JCI is by far the county’s largest employer and the fear is that if it closes, the economic impact to the county would be devastating. The amendment is being filed by Representative Denise Grimsley, the House Appropriations Chairwoman.

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