Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Major proposed changes to Florida prison system alarm workers, advocates

TALLAHASSEE — Determined to cut the size of the $2 billion prison budget, legislators and Gov. Rick Scott are focused on consolidation and privatization.

But as the potential disruption to state employees becomes clear, prison advocates and some lawmakers are scrambling to put the brakes on plans they say could devastate small towns that are highly dependent on prison jobs.

Some of the biggest changes in the agency's history are moving ahead all at once. They include closing seven prisons due to a surplus of vacant prison beds; outsourcing 32 prisons and work camps in South Florida to private vendors; and the privatization of health care for all 100,000 inmates statewide.

No part of state government is facing as much change as the Department of Corrections, and opposition is mounting.

Volunteers at prisons targeted for closure — especially Hillsborough Correctional Institution near Tampa — are sending email pleas to lawmakers to save the state's only faith-based women's prison, and plan a rally Saturday. Corrections officers, worried about losing their jobs, have begun pleading for help before legislative committees.

"I want to keep food on my table. I want a good doctor for my children," prison guard Reshae Cherry, 27, told a Senate panel this week.

For six years, Cherry has worked at Charlotte Correctional Institution, a prison with nearly 1,500 inmates and nearly 500 full-time workers. It is one of the biggest prisons the Legislature wants to turn over to a private company, which means Cherry's employment with the state could soon end and a private company will take over.

"You will lose morale, integrity and pride," Cherry warned senators.

Lawmakers from rural towns are raising concerns that mothballed prisons will cripple economies and leave ugly reminders of jobs long gone. In tiny Jefferson County just east of Tallahassee, a prison slated for closure is by far the county's largest employer, and nearly one of every 10 county residents is a prison inmate.

At a hearing Thursday, Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, said the possibility of closing state prisons worries people, and she reminded state corrections officials about past privatization failures, such as a decision several years ago to sever ties with private food service companies.

"I hope we are looking carefully so there's not an 'Oops!' and that we (the state) really can do it cheaper and better," Coley said.

Deputy Corrections Secretary Mike Crews sought to reassure lawmakers. He said every displaced employee would be given a "preference form" for possible transfers, and that county sheriffs would be urged to hire officers as detention deputies.

"We're reaching out to local sheriffs," Crews told the House Appropriations Committee. "But there are some tremendous impacts."

Major proposed changes to Florida prison system alarm workers, advocates 01/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 9:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA

    Airlines

    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  2. St. Petersburg man shot in arm during home invasion robbery

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — One man was arrested on charges he shot another man in the arm while attempting to rob a home in what St. Petersburg police are calling a drug-related incident.

    John Alam, 25, faces charges of home invasion robbery, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon after deputies said he tried to rob a home Wednesday morning and ended up shooting someone. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Bob Buckhorn, a mayor who knows what he wants, surveys constituents on what they want

    Local

    TAMPA — Focus has not been a problem — or really, even a question — during the six-plus years that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been in office.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn keeps a digital countdown clock in his office showing the days, hours. minutes and seconds until he is term-limited out of office on April 1, 2019. As of Wednesday, he had 584 days to go. [City of Tampa]
  4. WATCH: Heroic Hooters manager helps two sheriff's deputies subdue unruly customer

    Crime

    BRANDON — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office praised a heroic Hooters Restaurant manager Wednesday for coming to the aid of two deputies struggling to subdue an unruly customer.

    It took two deputies and a Hooter's manager to get control of Ashton B. Toney after he threatened to kill an employee who refused to serve him alcohol at a Hooter's in Brandon, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
[Booking photo from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]