State scales back prison closure plan

The Florida Senate is easing back on a plan to shutter and demolish four state prisons, agreeing Wednesday to a proposal that would close a single, 1,500-bed correctional institution by Dec. 31.

The prison consolidation and closure plan is included in the Senate’s $95 billion state budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Leaders in small counties where many prisons are located have pushed back against possible closures, saying that the institutions are economic drivers in financially strapped regions.

Sen. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat whose heavily rural North Florida district includes 11 correctional institutions, said lawmakers should be “absolutely certain that we’re really, really thinking about the impact this will have” on small counties if prisons are mothballed.

“I can tell you that closing any prison in a fiscally constrained county will be catastrophic,” Ausley said during floor debate about the budget plan, which the Senate unanimously approved.

Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch is grappling with critical staffing shortages he says could endanger prison workers and inmates. The revised Senate plan approved Wednesday would require Inch’s agency “to develop a comprehensive facility consolidation plan” by Sept. 1 and to shut down one prison by the end

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