Florida budget – Three ring circus and chain gangs

Is there something in the water of Tallahassee? You have a $ 1 billion dollar deficit and chain gangs, cutting education and social programs is ALL you can do?

Thanks Florida, now living in Georgia is not so bad.

But, here’s hoping our legislators and governor don’t read the papers…….

DOC secretary offers chain gangs, tents to save money

Stung by criticism from a powerful legislator that his department needs to cut more fat, the state’s chief prison boss has come up with another way to save money: modified chain gangs and tents.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Jim McDonough is also offering to lead the charge to help the state save $1.1 billion by cutting his own salary $11,346, or 10 percent.

”I believe that my own contribution to the effort will be necessary to reflect the other contributions that will be indirectly made by department employees, and to indicate the sincerity of our effort to make sacrifices in the public interest,” McDonough wrote in a letter to Senate criminal justice appropriations chairman Victor Crist, R-Tampa.

To find the approximately $90 million in savings that a 4-percent budget cut would mean for his agency, McDonough wants to close Martin Correctional Institution and put about 1,000 low-risk inmates in tents in Santa Rosa and Washington counties.

The so-called ”year-and-a-day” inmates wind up in the state prison system when judges sentence them to 366 days to prevent them from filling up county jails.

The inmates would be issued prison stripes and leg irons – although without being chained together – and put to work helping the Department of Transportation build highways, including Interstate 10. Shotgun-toting guards on horseback would supervise them.

McDonough estimates the forced labor could save the state about $1 million.

Redirecting the inmates to tents and delaying the construction of the $96 million Suwanee Correctional Institution could save nearly $44 million, McDonough said. He would also save nearly $16 million by negotiating lower cost contracts for prison food and health services.

Crist sent McDonough back to the drawing board after listening to the prison chief present budget-cutting proposals two weeks ago. The original included allowing non-violent and non-sex offenders nearing the end of their sentences to stay in work release programs instead of coming back to prison.

They would still serve 85 percent of their sentences and face return to prison if they did not obey their probation officers.

Crist was in Tallahassee on Friday to review the latest proposal and called it intriguing. However, he said he needs more time to study the details.

”It’s an idea that could have viability if applied appropriately,” Crist said. ”Some things we were doing yesterday may not be appropriate in society today.”

Inmate labor can be positive for the inmates and a boon to the community, Crist said. Crist arranged for inmates, over a three-year period, to build a public park in a blighted neighborhood in Tampa in his district.

There was no shortage of volunteers, he said.

”We had a waiting list of inmates who wanted to go out every day,” he said. ”There are a significant percentage of inmates who are there for non-violent crimes who could be entrusted to work programs under heavy supervision.”

McDonough’s offer to make a personal sacrifice is typical for a former Army commander who goes strictly by the book and leads by example, Crist said.

”I have a lot of respect for Secretary McDonough,” he said. ”He’s an honorable man with honorable intentions who is not afraid to stand his ground.” The proposal is sure to warm the heart of Gov. Charlie Crist, (no relation to the senator) who earned the nickname ”Chain Gang Charlie” when he pushed a similar proposal as a state legislator.

Victor Crist sponsored the first chain-gang bill, but the governor earned the nickname after trumpeting the proposal and following it up with his own legislation the next year.

McDonough’s latest offer comes as legislative leaders, stymied by a lack of consensus about how to make the cuts, postponed a Sept. 18 special budget-cutting session until later this year.McDonough is also offering to lead the charge to help the state save $1.1 billion by cutting his own salary $11,346, or 10 percent.

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