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Old 04-25-2010, 06:41 AM
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Thumbs down Blackwater Prison

Milton prison may get new life in budget talks

Budget talks eye Blackwater facility


TALLAHASSEE — The Senate scored a victory early Saturday morning when the House agreed to open Blackwater River Correctional Institution in Milton, a $120 million, state-of-the-art private prison that has stood vacant for lack of prisoners.
The agreement came as House and Senate lawmakers worked on final details of the state's $69 billion budget that must be passed before the session ends Friday.Under the proposal, the Department of Corrections would shift prisoners from existing dormitories to fill Blackwater's 2,224 beds, 224 more than the facility originally was designed to hold.
The architect for the private operator, Geo, warned that the expansion would violate federal standards that mandate a minimum of 25 square feet of "unencumbered space," per inmate and risks a lawsuit at the proposed capacity.
But Senate budget chief JD Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican, said Saturday he was confident the expansion could be done.
"I couldn't in all conscience sit there with a brand-new, $120 million facility and not find a way to use it. It just doesn't make sense to me," Alexander said.
Alexander said the agreement will give the Department of Corrections enough flexibility to eliminate vacant positions and avoid significant job losses.
But the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which lobbied hard to keep Blackwater closed, said the move will cause serious disruptions.
If a dorm closes in North Florida, and the only jobs available are in South Florida, veteran corrections officers will resign instead of relocating, said PBA lobbyist Ken Kopczynski.
"The bottom line is, it's a prison that's not needed," he said. "They could have just waited to do this."

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