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Senate committee agrees to keep prison in Jefferson County open

Days after the House voted to restore funding for Jefferson Correctional Institute, the Senate’s Budget Committee has followed suit.

The $10 million in funding for the prison will come from the Department of Correction’s general funding, meaning the agency now has to find the savings elsewhere.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who represents part of Jefferson County, championed the effort to amend the Senate’s budget to keep the prison open. He said a closure would have the same impact as a hurricane because the prison is the county’s largest employer.

“It would be devastating to the community and would certainly have a trickle down negative impact on the surrounding counties,” he said.

Although the budget amendment keeps the prison open, it also requires the Department of Corrections to complete a study that irons out the actual impacts closure would have on the surrounding community. That report would be due July 1.

The House voted last week to amend its budget to keep the prison open and save 175 jobs.

County officials, prison employees and their families have become constant fixtures in the Capitol in recent weeks as they lobbied against the facility's closure. Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Fulford said the Budget Committee's action Wednesday makes him comfortable that the prison will not close this year.

"I think we're over the hump," he said. "We've got some important Senate leadership behind us."

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