A number of state and local officials toured the new Gadsden re-entry prison located on Florida Public Safety Institute’s campus last week.
The new $17 million re-entry center is being called the next big innovation for getting convicted felons ready to return to society.
Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews led the tour of the facility.
As he started the tour he said the facility was about preparing inmates to be released through programs like adult education and substance abuse.
“This is a state of the art facility,” Crews said.
Other programs like small engine repair and heating and air-conditioning may be in the making as well.
"At some point, about 87 percent of all the inmates we have are going to come out," Crews said about the purpose behind the programs planned for the prison.
In addition to this facility there are plans in the future for re-entry facilities in Baker and Miami-Dade counties.
According to Crews, this is a pilot project that the Department of Corrections wants to open here in Gadsden County.
The location, he said, was chosen because it is on the campus of Tallahassee Community College, next to the state's law-enforcement training academy, and will allow administrative support from the state.
By doing this, Crews explained, the state can take information gathered at this facility and then use that information in other prison programs across the state.
The facility will house 432 prisoners in its three dormitories.
The 76,763-square-foot complex has a medium-security classification and will include classrooms, a computer laboratory, vocational labs and other facilities to emphasize training during the final three years of an inmate's sentence.
Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews and Deputy Secretary Tim Cannon at the new Gadsden Re-Entry Center.
Family reunification will also be part of the program, Crews stated, and for those that want it, faith-based meetings.
About the need for the new facility, Crews stated that about 34,000 prisoners are released each year from the statewide system and 13,000 are back within three years.
The recidivism rate is down from 33 percent in 2003 to 27.6 percent.
A one percent change calculates to about $19 million in state funds saved, it was explained.
Concerns voiced locally about the prison had been whether inmates would be allowed on work release programs.
It will not be a work-release center or provide inmate work crews, Deputy Secretary Tim Cannon said. Prisoners will be held behind fences topped by razor wire.
"These will be men who are in here for all types of crimes," Cannon said, adding that the inmate’s time will be spent inside of the fence.
Concerning the opening of the facility, Crews stated that it was now in the hands of the Florida legislature.
The DOC’s financial shortfall of $94 million has stymied the opening of the Gadsden facility.
Included in Governor Rick Scott's budget is a proposal that includes $5.4 million to start operations on July 1 of this year.
The conflict lies in what the Florida Senate’s spending plan will provide.
Currently it could hold the opening until halfway through the fiscal year, which would be January 1.
It could be as late as May before the final decision is made.
As far as available jobs, Cannon stated there would be 78 security positions at the facility. Some will be new hires, he stated, and some will be filled from other facilities.
(A video of this tour is available at the havanaherald.net website or on the Havana Herald Facebook page.)