Funding for area prisons sought


Published: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 12:35 a.m.
The state prison system is asking for a $125 million budget increase from the state Legislature to pay for construction projects that would add about 6,000 new inmate beds in northern Florida.
According to Department of Corrections spokesman Sterling Ivey, Gov. Jeb Bush's proposed 2004-2005 budget includes increasing the prison system's budget from the $2.1 billion in the current fiscal year to $2.2 billion. The increase would be for additional construction spending.
If approved, the construction would push the number of state prison beds to 91,165 when the work is all completed.
Ivey said the current fiscal year budget already has some construction money in it and when added to the proposed increase, the department plans to do the following:
  • Columbia Correctional Institution in Columbia County - requesting $16.3 million as part of a multi-year, $29.7 million project to construct a 788-bed annex scheduled to be completed in October 2006.
  • Lowell Correctional Institution (for women) in Marion County - requesting $8.6 million for a 320-bed annex scheduled to be completed in January 2007; and requesting $6 million of $11.4 million needed for a 262-bed work camp scheduled to be completed in June 2007.
  • Proposed prison in Suwannee County - requesting $45 million as part of a multi-year $82.9 million project to construct a 2,022-bed prison scheduled to be completed in March 2008.
  • Taylor Correctional Institution in Taylor County - requesting $1.3 million to complete construction and pay one-time startup costs for a 524-bed work camp expected to be open in February 2006 at a total cost of $6.2 million.
  • Reception and Medical Center in Union County - requesting $6.8 million to construct a 524-bed work camp.
  • Wakulla Correctional Institution in Wakulla County (west of Tallahassee) - requesting $49 million as part of a $69 million multi-year project to add a 2,022-bed annex scheduled to be completed in August 2007.
    The most controversial of the projects is the one in Suwannee County.
    Plans call for the prison to be built on 300 state-owned acres about nine miles east of Live Oak and about a mile and a half west of Wellborn along U.S. 90 in an area that is mostly pasture land and planted pines. The new prison is expected to create 305 jobs with an annual payroll of about $13.7 million.
    When the prison was first proposed for the rural county in the early 1990s, concerns were raised by Save Our Suwannee, an environmental protection group. Sven Lindskold was president of the organization at the time.
    "Our concern was that the wetland regulations were inadequate and they have not changed," Lindskold said. "The site for the prison is right on wetlands that are the headwaters of Rocky Creek, which is a little creek that heads north from U.S. 90 to the Suwannee River. These are strategically placed wetlands that need to be preserved."
    County and state officials have countered the argument by pointing out that the land development regulations and comprehensive land use plan allow for building a prison in the area.
    If the state goes ahead with the Suwannee prison plan, only four of Florida's 67 counties will not have some type of state prison - Citrus, Flagler, Seminole and St. Johns counties.
    Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.
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