Despite emotional pleas, House budget panel rejects bid to keep North Fla prison openby John Kennedy | February 1st, 2012
Despite emotional testimony from county officials and prison employees, the House budget committee rejected a bid Wednesday to stop Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to close Jefferson Correctional Institution in rural North Florida.
The move was similar to the decision last December to close the state’s oldest lockup, Glades Correctional Institution, which similarly caused further economic upheaval in western Palm Beach County.
“This may be a 100-year event for this county,” said Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, whose district includes the prison, told the House committee.
The Republican-led panel, however, sided with the decision by Scott and the state’s Department of Corrections, to close JCI, one of 11 lockups and work camps the administration plans to close because of a declining inmate population. Bembry sought to direct $10 million from the state’s prison privatization funding to avoid closing the facility, which is the county’s largest employer.
Close to 200 jobs will be lost — or about 6 percent of the county’s workforce. Jefferson County, which adjoins the state capital’s Leon County, has a population of 14,000. Dozens of residents packed the budget committee’s hearing room Wednesday.
“I’ve already cut the private prisons 9 percent in our budget,” said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, chairman of the criminal justice section of the House budget panel. “If I cut them again, it would throw my budget out of whack.”
Julie Conley, Jefferson County’s economic development chief, and a former mayor, pleaded with the committee to find other areas to cut — saying there are few job prospects in her community. Conley said she understood the need to save money.
“But we ask that you do it some place that can more easily absorb the impact,” she said.