Prison closure plan draws criticism

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Democrats jumped on the announcement Thursday by the Department of Corrections that it plans to close several prisons as an opportunity to criticize Gov. Rick Scott, saying the move will increase an already high unemployment rate, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida.

The Department of Corrections announced Thursday it is closing seven prisons around the state because of declining need, with fewer inmates. The move will save tens of millions of dollars, but also might mean the loss of hundreds of jobs.

The department said it is committed to “placing as many affected staff as possible in vacant positions for which they are qualified.” The total number of full time jobs that will be lost is about 1,300 but not all of them are currently filled, and some of those who lose those jobs will get new ones in the system.

Democrats have criticized Scott, who has staked the success of his governorship on job creation and the lowering of the state’s unemployment rate, currently 10 percent, for cutting the size of state government, in many cases lopping state government jobs. Scott has been very clear that he is interested in creating private sector jobs – not government jobs. But if those government workers are left without a job, they still show up in unemployment figures, on which Scott will have to run for re-election.

And the minority party slammed the department’s move on Thursday after it was announced.

“I am saddened and disappointed with Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to close several correctional institutions that are economically vital to our rural communities,” said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. “I care about and have great concern for the people who work at these facilities, their families, and the small businesses that have relied upon the employment and economic opportunity that these prisons have brought to these fiscally constrained areas of our state.”

State Democratic Chairman Rod Smith said the move was part of an “extreme Tea Party agenda” on the governor’s part.

The administration, though, said the move makes sense. The number of prisoners has dwindled as the crime rate has reached its lowest in decades, and the state’s lawmakers have eased up in recent years on the lengthy minimum mandatory sentencing laws that were common in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, drug treatment for addicts rather than straight up prison has come into vogue.

Scott and lawmakers last year also sought to privatize a number of prisons, but that move is caught up in the courts.

The prisons the state plans to close, all by this coming summer, include New River Correctional in Raiford, in northeast Florida, and Jefferson Correctional in Monticello – the two largest on the list. Also closing will be and Demilly Correctional Institute in Polk City; Gainesville C.I.; Indian River C.I. in Vero Beach, and the women’s prisons Broward C.I. in Fort Lauderdale and Hillsborough C.I. in Riverview near Tampa. The department also plans to close work camps in Gadsden, Washington, Hendry and Levy counties.

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.