Hendry Correctional Institution closing as state plans to save $30 million annually

— The Hendry Correctional Institution will close its doors for good at the end of June as part of a prison consolidation plan to save the state more than $30 million annually, the Florida Department of Corrections announced Tuesday.

The Hendry prison, which was built in 1977 on the Collier border near Immokalee, is one of three prisons, two boot camp programs and a road prison that are being shuttered.

The consolidation plan will save the state $30.8 million annually, the department announced, with another $25 million in cost avoidance that would have been necessary to pay for repairs at the aging facilities.

“Overall, and Hendry is included in this, they are older facilities so they cost more to operate,” said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. “Also, the location of Hendry has historically made it difficult to staff. It’s more rural than most of our facilities.”

The Hendry prison currently houses 783 adult male inmates serving sentences from one year and a day to life, Plessinger said. All classifications of inmates are housed at the Hendry prison except death row inmates.

They will be transferred to other prisons around the state on an inmate-by-inmate basis, with a preference of keeping them in the same region or moving them closer to their home, Plessinger said.

The plan will not result in the early release of inmates, the department said.

The 137 employees who work at the prison will be offered jobs at nearby facilities in Charlotte, Glades and Broward counties.

Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents corrections officers, said his union will be negotiating with the department regarding the transfers and reassignments of its members.

“Our biggest goal right now is to make sure that somebody that’s working in Hendry right now doesn’t get transferred to a Panhandle prison,” Puckett said. “If they have to be done, we want the transfers to be close.”

Plessinger said the department is trying to be able to give the affected employees jobs within a 50 mile radius of their current prison.

“We’re going to be working closely with the union on this, to make sure that everyone who wants a job will be able to have a job at these impacted facilities,” she said.

News of the jail’s closing quickly spread.

At the Sunniland Country Store, Hamit Okur said that closing the facility was not going to be good for business.

The gas station and mini-mart at the intersection of S.R. 29 and Oil Well Road, not only provides for Hendry’s correctional staff going to and from the facility, but also the weekly influx of visitors that trek to the facility on weekends for visiting hours.

“We supply them with gas, sodas, and restrooms. Anything they need,” said Okur who works at the store. “Most people drive a long way and sometimes barely make it to get gas. Especially the first time they come to visit.”

Okur said that knowing that their biggest customer provider would be gone soon left him feeling powerless.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said.

The facility, established in 1977, houses adult male inmates in four of the five supervision grades, from community to close, according to the Department of Corrections website. The prison converted to a youthful offender facility in 1999 before closing and then reopening to again house male inmates. Hendry C.I. has a capacity of 1,091 inmates.

The prison holds a library and chapel, but it lacks vocational and substance abuse programs.

The Florida Department of Corrections online database shows that 90 inmates housed at the institution are incarcerated for crimes in Lee County. Fifteen of those have been sentenced to life in prison.

Among its charges are Derek Shields, serving a life sentence in the 1996 Lords of Chaos slaying out of Lee County; Cody Roux, sentenced to 14 years for his part in the Cash Feenz killing in Cape Coral in 2006; and Abenamar Benavides, whose involvement in the killing of Estero track standout Adam Cortes in 2007 earned him a life sentence.

The prison database shows that 38 inmates housed at Hendry Correctional Institute have crimes originating in Collier County. Four of those inmates — George A. Hill, David E. James, Alford L. Mardis and Raymundo Reyes — are sentenced to life in prison.

Also closing are the Brevard Correctional Institution in Cocoa, the Hillsborough Correctional Institution in Riverview, the Tallahassee Road Prison, the Lowell Correctional Institution Boot Camp and the Sumter Boot Camp. The department will also move close management inmates out of Charlotte Correctional Institution in Punta Gorda to three other prisons.

“This plan is the right thing to do because it will save Florida taxpayers millions of dollars,” Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Edwin Buss said in a prepared statement.

For the first time in years, the department has a surplus of beds allowing the agency to move inmates to other facilities as they continue to serve their full prison terms, according to a press release.

The phase out plan begins immediately with a target completion date of June 30, 2011.

“It just makes sense to do this,” Plessinger said.

Staff Writer Elysa Batista contributed to this report.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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