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Prison officials offer tour of shuttered inmate re-entry center


Top state prison officials hosted a guided media tour Tuesday of a vivid symbol of the agency's long-festering budget problems: a shiny new $17 million medium security inmate re-entry center that's finished but sits idle. The reason: Go. Rick Scott's Department of Corrections doesn't have enough money to operate the center.

The 432-bed Gadsden Re-Entry Center sits on the campus of the Florida Public Safety Institute in Havana, about 15 miles northwest of Tallahassee. With its three dormitories, chapel, classrooms and computer lab, it is designed to ease inmates through the difficult transition from long-term incarceration to civilized society by teaching them vocational and life skills, such as obtaining a high-school equivalency or learning how to balance a checkbook.

Helping inmates re-enter society is a priority of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews, who acted as tour guide. "We can stick our heads in the sand," Crews said, "or we can do what we can to ensure that they succeed when they get out."

Gov. Scott's proposed $74 million budget includes $5.4 million to open the center on July 1. The proposed Senate budget has enough money to open it next January, Crews said, and he's waiting to see what the House proposes in its budget, to be released in the coming days.

Crews emphasized that a re-entry center is not a work release center. Inmates sent to Gadsden will not be leaving the grounds for outside employment. "That is not going to happen," Crews said. "This is about skills, jobs, education. Their time will be spent inside the fence."

-- Steve Bousquet