Commission opposes prison


Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 11:14 p.m.

Alachua County commissioners went on record Tuesday opposing a proposed state prison on NE 39th Avenue, saying it would harm attempts to lure new business development to the area and flood the county with more released inmates.

Commissioner Rodney Long at Tuesday's meeting called on the commission to send a letter stating the opposition to Gov. Charlie Crist, the Cabinet and legislators. The county will ask the Gainesville City Commission to send a letter as well.

"I'm aware there may be an economic benefit with the jobs; however, I think the long-term impact will be much greater if this part of our county were to be allowed to have this facility," Long said.

"...The siting of a such a facility is in total conflict with the city's and the county's comprehensive plans to foster economic development through mixed uses in this area."

Commissioners voted 4-0 to send the letter. Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut was not present.

State Department of Corrections assistant secretary George Sapp said Tuesday afternoon that the department is doing environmental and other studies to determine if the site is suitable for a prison.

A decision on whether to apply for comprehensive plan changes has not been made, he said.

"I can't say that we are actually going to apply for the changes until we get the results of the study. Then we'll go to the County Commission and the citizens and explain it," Sapp said.

"We always take everybody's feelings into account. If opposition is there, we certainly take that into account and make our decisions appropriately," he added.

The proposed site is next to the state Department of Transportation administrative office complex.

The first phase would have a 1,300-bed general facility, a mental health facility, a shooting range, dog kennels, 25 residences for officers and apartment housing for officers.

A second 1,300-bed general facility is planned for further in the future.

The county had said the mental health facility would have 1,100 beds, but Sapp said Tuesday it is 1,400 beds.

Total cost of both phases would be in the $250 million range, and more than 800 jobs would be created.

Both the general facility and the mental health facility would have minimum-, medium- and close-custody security.

Several state correctional facilities and the Alachua County jail are near the proposed site.

The NE 39th Avenue corridor lies in Plan East Gainesville, a city/county program designed to pump more business development into the vicinity. Commissioners are concerned that another prison could hamper that effort.

Another concern is released prisoners. Officials have long said that some of Gainesville's crime and homeless problems are created by former inmates of prisons in surrounding counties.

"It just makes sense that some percentage of people will end up relocating here, and try as we may to have them become productive members of society, it doesn't always work," Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said. "There is some cost involved."

Resident Kali Blount spoke against the prison, saying the state should instead be spending money on education and other efforts to prevent crime.

A Facebook group, Education First - Stop the Gainesville Prison, has been created and had 138 members by Tuesday afternoon.

Contact Cindy Swirko at 374-5024 or at swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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