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Panhandle prison jobs threatened

UPDATE: SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER AL LAWSON HALTS STATE PRISON CLOSURES Last minute agreement with Senate Republican Leadership Saves 2000 State Jobs TALLAHASSEE – Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) on Wednesday announced that he had reached an agreement with the Senate Republican Leadership halting the impending closure of five state-run prison facilities, one of them likely Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County, saving approximately 2,000 jobs. “I applaud the Senate President for working with me to save these valuable employees,” Sen. Lawson said. “The loss of these jobs would have devastated countless families and communities at little savings to the state, if any. We owe it to the people and the security of Florida to keep them working.” Under the agreement, Sen. Lawson sponsored legislation that prevents the closure of two prisons in order to divert those inmates to the newly-built and privately-run Blackwater River Correctional Institution in Milton. The closures would have resulted in a loss of more than 600 jobs, in addition to those on the chopping block thanks to proposed cuts in the Department of Corrections’ overall budget. Those cuts would have likely resulted in the closure of three additional state-run prisons. Instead, the Democratic Leader’s amendments move $20 million back into the Department of Corrections budget. They also give the DOC full discretion to determine how best to utilize the new Blackwater facility. ————————————————– A proposal to close a couple state prisons to populate a private one has leaders around the region up in arms. A press conference was held outside the gates of the Apalachee Correctional Institute in Sneads Friday after word began to spread that panhandle prisons could be on the chopping block. Senate Budget Chief J.B. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, has reportedly been the ringleader of this drive to open 2,224 beds at the Blackwater River Correctional Institution in Milton and 1,350 additional beds which were privatized in the Senate Appropriations Bill 2700. Sources say two state prisons would be closed and a third would be privatized under the proposal. A list of those prisons would be announced no later than July 1. However, none of this will come to pass if Senator Al Lawson has anything to say about it. He filed an amendment Monday night to fight the proposal. Calhoun County Commissioner Don Miller (district 3) was at the press conference Friday. “The percentage of people in Calhoun County who work for DOC is high,” he remarked. “We’ve got people working in at least five institutions. If any one of those five closes, it affects Calhoun County. There are things you can’t justify by privatizing and that’s one of the things. DOC operates under a military style system – your warden is like the general and your staff breaks out in a chain of command. When you privatize, you’ve got a different situation. It’s one of those things that’s better left like it is.” Kristy Terry, Executive Director of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, is also concerned about this proposal. “Calhoun Correctional is a key component to our local economy,” says Terry. “It’s not only one of our largest employers, but also feeds other local businesses as those that work there put money back into our restaurants, stores, and service providers.” A rally was planned Tuesday in Sneads to fight the proposal. Stay tuned.

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