Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sadness, resentment at closing of Hillsborough prison

You'd think the news that Florida needs fewer prisons would be cause for celebration.

But not in Hillsborough County.

Instead, this is a time of frustration and despair for many people connected to Hillsborough Correctional Institution in Riverview.

The only Florida prison with a faith- and character-based curriculum exclusively for female inmates is closing permanently.

Inmates are being shipped 100 miles north to Lowell, a prison in Ocala, and correctional officers have been given jobs at various prisons, some as much as 80 miles away.

With gas costing nearly $4 a gallon, that's a hardship for low-paid prison workers, who just got a chilling reminder of the dangerous nature of their work: An officer was killed on duty at a prison in Lake City Sunday.

The debt-ridden state Department of Corrections, facing a $79 million flood of red ink and stuck with 12,000 empty prison beds, is closing six prisons, including Hillsborough, which was ranked last based on state criteria such as cost-per-inmate, maintenance expenses and space at nearby prisons.

Lowell is an all-women's prison that has an entire dorm that's new and empty, with plenty of room to continue the faith-based programs. That made the decision to close Hillsborough a no-brainer at corrections headquarters.

But in its pursuit of cost savings, Hillsborough's advocates say, the state sacrificed something a lot more valuable than money: a dedicated prison staff, volunteers who are generous with their time and inmates who are among the least likely in the system to commit new crimes.

But HCI's low recidivism rate was not among the criteria used to decide which prisons lived or died.

Lawmakers who support the prison ordered it kept open at a cost of nearly $10 million a year. But in the end, the executioner was Sen. JD Alexander, the Senate budget chairman, who made most key final budget decisions.

He said lawmakers such as Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who demanded HCI stay open, spent money they didn't have. In another extremely tight budget year, he overruled them.

"We all can say we like to do things. But if you don't have the money in the budget to do it, it doesn't really mean something," Alexander said.

Glorioso accused Alexander of again showing his dislike of Hillsborough County, as he did during the flap over the USF Polytechnic campus.

"I knew he was going to punish HCI," Glorioso said. "It's a shame."

Janet Smith, one of the many devoted HCI volunteers from the Sun City Center retirement complex, is leading a lobbying effort aimed at forcing Gov. Rick Scott to intercede and keep Hillsborough open.

"The long-term costs of this closing will be far more than the supposed $8 million in savings they claim," Smith said. "But the cost of a higher recidivism rate will be felt statewide in repeat offenders."

Smith said inmates are worried that the programs that have worked well to rebuild inmates' self-esteem at HCI, such as one that teaches inmates culinary arts skills so they can get jobs at restaurants after they are released, won't be available at Lowell.

"There is a lot of sadness and despair at HCI," Smith said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached bousquet@tampabay.com.

Sadness, resentment at closing of Hillsborough prison 03/19/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 19, 2012 8:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Here's what it's like inside a writhing, growling Howl-O-Scream audition

    Florida

    TAMPA — At Busch Gardens, a Howl-O-Scream manager is hunting zombies.

    Auditioner Natalie Rychel, 20, of Tampa, Fla., high fives director of atmosphere Morgan Malice after being selected for a job for Bush Gardens' Howl-O-Scream during an audition at the theme park on Friday, August 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (From left) Auditioners Jared Shipley, 20, of Lakeland, Fla., and Lincoln Scott, 41, of Riverview, Fla., look over. This year, Howl-O-Scream will take place from September 22 to October 29 at Bush Gardens. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  2. Tampa Bay homeowners sue JPMorgan Chase for billing on already-paid mortgages

    Banking

    ST. PETERSBURG — Two Tampa Bay homeowners are suing JPMorgan Chase Bank for attempting to continue to collect on what they say were already-paid-off mortgages.

    JPMorgan Chase is the subject of a lawsuit by two Tampa Bay homeowners who say the bank attempted to collect on mortgages they already paid off. | [Getty Images]
  3. ‘Please don't let her be dead': Man struck by car recounts Charlottesville protest (w/video)

    Nation

    CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — With tires screeching and bodies flying, Marcus Martin shoved his fiancee out of the way of a car charging through a crowd of peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    People fly into the air as a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. The nationalists were holding the rally to protest plans by the city of Charlottesville to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. [Ryan M. Kelly | The Daily Progress via AP]
  4. Taco Bell wants you to put 'Pop Rocks' on your burrito

    General

    Have you ever taken the first bite of your burrito and felt like the heat from the hot sauce wasn't enough?

    Taco Bell is trying out its Firecracker Burrito in three California locations. (Taco Bell)
  5. Live video: Mourners gather to remember Heather Heyer at Charlottesville rally

    Nation

    CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mourners gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Wednesday to honor the woman who was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally that descended into violence last weekend.

    Women visit a memorial at 4th and Water Streets, Tuesday, Aug. 15 2017,  in Charlottesville, Va., where Heather Heyer was killed when a car rammed into a group of counterprotesters last weekend. Alex Fields Jr., is charged with second-degree murder and other counts after authorities say he rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters Saturday, where a white supremacist rally took place. [Associated Press]