It was a nice day and needed to clear my mind. So, I decided to head north and then cut off I-75 to explore both sides of Rt. 90 at Lake City. Essentially this is an area that parallels and runs south of I-10 for 20 or so miles on each side of I-75. Got a late start as I had to wait for Cost Plus to open as my TomTom GPS failed and needed to get a replacement. Have gone through 4 GPS’s on the motorcycle in the last year.
(These are large size photos and if you double click on them they will become much more meaningful)
Don’t know why this collection of broken down and what appeared abandoned collection of farm buildings caught my eye but that they did and had to swing around to catch a photo of them. You can click on the photo and get a much better view of them. As I was riding, it occurred to me that this was a benchmark of the past and the new style of farming in Florida is mining the prison system. Delapidated buildings with new roofs was and is a puzzle.
Headed west off of I-75 and about 11 miles into Suwannee County came across Suwannee CI. This is the new look in prisons as it is built (2007) behind a wood line where someone driving by on the highway would think it was just some kind of factory or business. A business it is: there is a staff between the annex and main unit of 711 that controls an inmate population of 2,854. This does not include the work camp.
Turned around and headed back towards Lake City on Rt. 90 and about ten miles past the city came across Lake City CI.This facility was established in 1997 to house male youthful offender inmates. It is operated by Corrections Corporation of America. This prison is dedicated to youthful offenders between the ages of 19 and 24 with a 16 hour day program. Where as it only has 1 DOC correction officer it most likely has a staff of some 250 men and women. This prison was built in 1997 and is fully exposed to the highway. I guess in those days they figured there was a deterrent value in having prisons ‘in your face’ if you will.
Right next to Lake City CI is Columbia CI which was built in the early 1990s and is fully exposed to the highway. It has a staff of 389 and an inmate population of 1,427. What is not so apparent is the annex which has a staff of 174, and inmate population of 1,239 and is nested behind the main unit and completely out of view from the road.
A few miles down the road was the Public Service Training Center/Florida Gateway College. It turns of that Public Service Training Center must be a new euphemism for Police Academy. At first it seemed so out of place for a rural area but then when looking at the prisons of Rt. 90 and the ‘Iron Triangle’ in the counties to the south it becomes quickly apparent why an institution of this nature is required. At some later time, am going to see if I can figure out how many law enforcement schools tied to the community college system exist.
The last prison on the run down Rt. 90 was Baker CI which was the oldest being built in 1978 and like Columbia CI and Lake City CI is fully exposed to the road. It has a staff of some 297 with an inmate population of 1,165. This also has a work camp here of who knows how many.
Did some quick stubby pencil math and it came to a total of almost 2,000 men and women who owe their jobs to the incarceration of over 6,500 inmates on a strech of Rt. 90 that is 31 miles long. These are people whose jobs are political in nature in that they spin first on the privatization efforts of the legislature as well as the laws made. Essentially, they vote their jobs. The last I heard was that there were only 3 counties in the state that did not have a major correctrional facility. Don’t know that there is a single emplyer or four employers in the tri-county area of Baker, Suwannee and Columbia that has a work force as big as DOC. Now, think in terms of the jobs that spin off of those employed by the DOC in those counties. That makes the DOC a force to be reckoned with and the legislature is now focused on keeping those prisons filled.
That does not bode well for the public safety as it takes a felony to send a person to prison. A felony is a product of a serious crime and that means someone or their property was put at risk. That is an interesting conflict. Do you vote for the public welfare or to keep the prisons full and remain in power.
Decided I had enough of prisons and instead of backtracking to I-75 decided to cut south through the back country to Gainesville. There was a lot of pine farms on the way and realised the full significance of prison jobs in an agriculture area. Farming is not a year round or labor intensive job. Also, agriculture is subjected to the vissisitudes of both the market place and weather. This is not only true for the farmers but also for the business community that lives off of the farms.
Even though I was trying a short cut on my way back, up jumps another prison. It is the Reception and Medical Center (RMC) which has a combined staff of some 941 men and women as well as over 2,700 inmates. For the most part, this is a skilled work force because of the hospital unit and draws a considerable chunk of its employees from Gainesville.
Not all that long ago, I took the Department of Justice’s violent crime data for the US as an average and compared to Florida since 1960. The graph showed that Florida has parallel every, trend, pattern and theme that was at play in the US. There was not one time in those 50 years that Florida came below or came close to that of the country as a whole.
Well, then I though if this is true for Florida because of its size, population, proximity to drug routes to Latin America and etc then it should be so for Texas and California. Not true, those states had their bad periods but would pull back more of less to that of the national average.
Then I charted the incarceration ratio and the truth is Florida has a higher incarceration ratio than that of the US and the US has the highest incarceration ration of the world. Now, that says something when you consider that there is no country on God’s green earth that has a higher incarceration ratio than the state of Florida.
It would seem that the legislators for the state of Florida have achieved a remarkable balance of keeping the prison full while keeping the population at a higher threat level than the rest of the country. In the process, they have guaranteed themselves job security as well as those for the men and women they employ in the law enforcement community.
As a fitting close to the journey, there was a sign on Rt. 90 between Lake City CI and Columbia CI painted with the standard Department of Corrections green and white with a telephone number to call for employment opportunities. It could be said that the state of Florida is building prisons faster than they can staff them. Then again, Florida prisons have a very high turnover with most employe’s not making it past the two year mark.