Friday, April 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Dangers of privatizing work-release

Finally, residents in a Largo neighborhood can sleep a little easier. Florida's decision Friday to close a work-release center run by Goodwill Industries-Suncoast took longer than it should have taken. But it came less than 24 hours after Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri provided evidence that little had changed there despite nine months of high-profile scrutiny and legislative action. The entire episode should give state Republican leaders pause about the continued push to put more corrections operations in private hands and how those facilities operate. Public safety, including rehabilitation for soon-to-be-released prisoners, is more important than saving a few dollars.

Effective work-release centers are vital to rehabilitating inmates by providing an intermediate step to freedom. But management at Largo Residential Re-Entry Center on U.S. 19 failed to grasp that its job also included minimizing risk for the community. It wasn't until last year's murder of two men by an inmate and the sexual assault of a teenager by another that residents' complaints received a hard look. The picture up close was no prettier.

An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times' Curtis Krueger and Kameel Stanley published last Sunday showed a more complete picture of how lax operations had become even in the months after the murders and rape. As recently as January, state auditors found inmates regularly left the facility for work but never showed up at the job. Sexual activity among inmates was a recurring problem, sometimes with center staff. Nearly half of the inmates did not receive the substance abuse treatment they needed. And just two months ago, the facility manager left the center unsupervised and failed to discipline a prisoner who had been caught stealing. Yet none of that stopped the Department of Corrections from renewing the center's contract on May 31 for another five years.

The final straw was Gualtieri's revelations Thursday from a two-week undercover surveillance operation. Among the findings: Goodwill managers delayed reporting an inmate's escape for hours to authorities and even failed to provide the license plate number of the vehicle used in the escape. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, shared those details with Gov. Rick Scott, and the center was closed in less than 24 hours.

The state should learn from this debacle. Among the obvious reforms lawmakers should consider is reinstating the requirement that work-release centers provide transportation for inmates to their jobs. Nearly all the mischief affecting the neighbors in Largo came as inmates walked to and from the center to jobs or a bus stop.

Florida has a dubious track record when it comes to overseeing privatized government services. It remains a mystery how Goodwill Industries-Suncoast won yet another five-year contract just a month ago. Scott and new Corrections Secretary Michael Crews deserve credit for finally taking action, but the real test of their leadership will be what reforms they offer. Merely continuing the same march toward privatizing corrections services — including six more work-release centers — in the name of saving money is not reform.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Florida Department of Corrections renewed the contract with Goodwill Industries-Suncoast for the now closed Largo Residential Re-Entry Center in May. An editorial published Sunday had an incorrect time period.

Comments
Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Natureís Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. ē The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18
Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Any movement on modernizing local transportation is welcome, even small steps like the million dollars the state recently approved to design a Tampa Bay regional transit plan.But the region wonít make any progress on transportation, its single most p...
Published: 04/13/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Editorial: Fight harder on citrus greening

A new report by scientists advising the federal government finds no breakthrough discovery for managing citrus greening, a chronic disease killing Floridaís citrus industry. This should be a wake-up call to bring greater resources to the fight.The re...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18

Editorial: Floridians should focus more on health

A new snapshot of the nationís health shows a mixed picture for Florida and the challenges that residents and the health care community face in improving the quality of life.Americans are living longer, exercising more and doing better at managing th...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18