Scott on Glades prison shut-down: Private sector, not government, creates jobsby Dara Kam | September 21st, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott appeared unapologetic for the shuttering of Glades Correctional Institution on Dec. 1 ordered by his administration in one of the state’s economically hardest-hit regions.
When asked about the decision to close the Belle Glade prison – revealed yesterday afternoon when Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker met with Palm Beach County lawmakers – Scott said his priority is making sure the state spends money wisely – even at the expense of the region’s economy.
At least 250 prison guards now employed at GCI will have to find jobs elsewhere within the prison system or try to get work from at one of the private prisons after the department hands over all prisons in an 18-county region south of Polk County to a private vendor on Jan. 1.
“I think the biggest factor should be how do you spend state tax dollars efficiently and do the job you’re expected to do,” Scott said when asked about the expected devastating effect of mothballing the prison on the region where unemployment in some areas is as high as 40 percent.
When pressed about the impact shutting GCI would have on the community, Scott said: “I think our job is to help build communities. But I personally don’t believe government creates these jobs. I believe government’s job is to watch how it spends its money, fulfill its purposes well but help build private sector jobs.”
Former DOC Secretary Ed Buss, ousted last month by Scott, had appeared amenable to keeping GCI open in another capacity, possibly to comply with a legislative mandate that the department create 800 transitional drug treatment beds for prisoners nearing release.
But Tucker, appointed by Scott late last month, said Wednesday that plan was scrapped because the legislature wanted more than one vendor to provide the step-down beds in more than one location.
“We did engage in an evaluation as to is it possible to use that as an opportunity to keep Glades open. Ultimately, that proviso was for multiple beds and the opportunity of multiple providers to come in and have an opportunity to participate,” Tucker told The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday. “It didn’t work out. That was before I got here. A lot of things occurred…I’m just trying to move forward. “
GCI guards will have “bumping rights” if they want to relocate to other openings within the state prison system, or can apply for jobs with the winner of the privatization bid, Tucker said.
Lawmakers ordered the privatization in proviso language included in the budget passed this spring. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents corrections officers, has filed a lawsuit against Scott’s administration over the privatization, alleging that including it in the must-pass budget is unconstitutional.
The budget also ordered that Glades not be included in the privatization and did not allocate any funding for the prison, which costs about $23 million a year to run. Corrections officials have been using money from other areas to cover the costs of operating GCI since July, when the funding ran out.
Local officials’ hopes of an alternate use for the facility were dashed on Wednesday, when Tucker said a final decision had been made to permanently mothball the aging prison on Dec. 1.
“We’ve been carrying that at significant expense to the agency since (July),” Tucker said “We do want to try to carry it to December to try to afford the other opportunities that may be able to come about and be accomplished. Really there’s not a lot more to say there.”