Dept. of Corrections balloons; now $95 mil in red

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The cost of downsizing and consolidating Florida’s prison system cost at least $15 million more than expected this year and the Department of Corrections continues to operate in the red, the state’s prisons secretary told lawmakers Wednesday, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida. 

Deficits related to the closure of two correctional facilities, a controversial push to privatize health service and overtime expenses incurred as a result of consolidation combined to deepen the Department of Corrections deficit to $95.2.million.

Speaking to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, DOC Secretary Michael Crews said miscalculations, and delays in closing at Glades Correctional Institution added to a deficit carried over from previous years.

“That deficit is the Department of Correction’s responsibility,” Crews said. “We don’t point any fingers. That is our job.”

Among the big ticket overages were:

-$13.3 million for additional salaries and overtime required as prisoners in the recently closed facilities were relocated to other institutions. 

-$10.9 million in reduced revenue associated with privatization that was not undertaken following a court challenge. The funds were not replaced.

-$14 million in revenue cuts to privatize health services in south Florida, the transfer of which was delayed until December.

-$1.5 million for maintaining climate control and security at two closed facilities. The agency had budgeted $250,000 to keep the lights on and air conditioners running to avoid a buildup of mold. 

The overall deficit includes $36 million carried over from the 2011-12 fiscal year. DOC budget chief Mark Talent said the costs included $7 million incurred by delaying the closing of Glades Correctional Institution by five months, a delay lawmakers called for in an effort to cushion the blow.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the agency has to do a better job of estimating its costs, saying estimates in recent years have been woefully unreliable.

“What we need to focus on going forward is to make sure those types of mistakes don’t happen,” committee chairman Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said after the presentation. 

Bradley was especially concerned about the additional salary costs that surrounded Glades’ closure.

Crews, who took over at DOC in December and is the sixth secretary at the agency in the past seven years, said the agency significantly underestimated the cost of shutting down facilities, especially in the area of increased personnel costs. 

“This is one area as far as staff where we really missed the boat,” Crews said. 

As lawmakers in 2011 were debating a massive effort to privatize prisons in the southern third of the state, some of them warned about unanticipated costs of the plan, which eventually was defeated. 

Committee members took turns Wednesday chastising the agency for continued budget shortfalls, with both Democrat and Republican members saying the agency needs to get its house in order by the end of the current fiscal year. 

“We’ve got to find a way to get our hands and arms around the deficit and make sure it doesn’t exponentially continue to increase,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. 

“That’s just bad management at the end of the day,” Bradley said. “We’ve talked about the reasons why today, but we have to end it. We have to figure out how much it costs to put someone in jail and keep them there.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.