TALLAHASSEE — Less than a year ago, a desolate corrections outpost in Hendry County housed hundreds of inmates and employed hundreds more officers.
Then in June, 783 inmates were shipped to other prisons as the Hendry Correctional Institution closed its doors. About 140 jobs left with them.
Within five months, 74 more state workers will either be laid off or posted at other facilities as the Hendry Work Camp closes. It is one of 11 facilities closing statewide, the Department of Corrections announced Thursday.
The new consolidations arise as inmate numbers fall and empty beds leave fat in the system, the department said. The reductions will save $90 million — about $4 million by shuttering Hendry — and will eliminate 1,293 jobs.
The Hendry corrections officers “are probably sitting there going, ‘OK, what’s going to happen now?’” said Al Shopp, a police union representative who worked at the Hendry Correctional Institution in the 1980s. “It’s tough going home and telling your wife or your family we’ve gotta move again.”
Eliminating the work camp, just east of Immokalee, is a blow to Hendry County. At 15.1 percent, Hendry has the highest rate of unemployment in the state. Many of the camp’s employees, however, commute from Collier or Lee county.
But Corrections Department Secretary Kenneth Tucker said the layoffs and closures were unavoidable. Fewer people are going to prison, and by October the department was expecting 16,000 empty beds.
Hendry Work Camp had 257 inmates but could hold 280. No inmates in the system will be released early.
The department was under pressure from the governor’s office to reduce its budget and its staff. In December, Gov. Rick Scott recommended the Legislature cut $103.5 million from the Corrections Department budget and eliminate 2,064 positions.
“The good news is crime is down because admissions are down, and fewer people are entering our system,” Tucker said. “The bad news is it’s going to affect many employees inside the Department of Corrections.”
Between the corrections officers and families of the inmates, having the work camp in Hendry County meant extra traffic down Oil Well Road.
It’s unclear what will become of the buildings. They may be leased or sold or even kept up to be reopened if crime spikes.