In today’s Sunday Democrat, there is a front page article that opens with the following statement: ‘The real No. 1 priority is that over time this facility will bring as many as 250 jobs to Gadsden County. That’s something the college has been committed to for a long time, improving the economic climate in Gadsden County,’ These are the words of Tallahassee Community College president.
Not all that long ago another prison not a hundred miles from Gadsden and the headlines were similar. The local headlines were Suwannee prison opens in March. The article goes on to say ‘First wave of project will bring 103 jobs to county. One hundred three new jobs will be brought to Suwannee County in March with the opening of the work camp at Suwannee Correctional Institute.The prison will begin accepting inmates at its work camp in March. The main unit is set for completion in October and the annex in January 2009. The three buildings together will house more than 3,000 inmates.
This same article goes on to say ‘Suwannee CI, a $105 million-plus project, will bring a total of about 600 jobs to the area. Jim Witt, the prison’s warden, has said the facility will allow local residents who travel to other counties to work for the Department of Corrections to shorten their commutes considerably.”We look forward to those jobs,” said Mayor Sonny Nobles.’
The prison at Suwannee did not just appear. The local business community and political leaders had been campaigning for many years to have it built. In fact they even purchased 360 acres and gave it to the state for the construction of the prison in their county.
Now there is a lot of talk about re-entry but what there is no talk of is addressing the problems leading to the filling of prisons or what I call the front end of the equation. There are 68 county’s in Florida and at my last count there were only 3 that did not have a prison of their own. With the emphasis on jobs, just what elected politician is going to call for any step that will reduce the number of prisons.
Out of this equation has grown some very large and cohesive unions that have electoral and financial clout that no politician will challenge. This has nothing to do with public safety but has everything to do with jobs. At a minimum there are about 50,000 men and women involved with the incarceration of men and women. That is a very powerful single issue voting block and you only have to look at the fact there are over 102,000 men, women and children in the prisons of Florida. There are another 250,000 men, women and children on parole and probation. All of whom have been effectively disenfranchised which means no competing voices in the political arena for moderation of the current laws that lead to laws designed to improve the public safety and well being of all the citizens of Florida.
The political reality is that Florida came into the Union as a slave state and is still dependent on the enslavement of its citizens for its perceived well being. The real question that falls out of this equation is: just how far as this epidemic permeated the rest of the country.