Franklin County students won’t be the only ones returning to new rooms on Monday.
Sam Culpepper, director of the Florida Department of Corrections Region 1, told Apalachicola city commissioners Aug. 6 that the cross-county relocation of about 282 inmates from Apalachicola’s Bay City Work Camp to the new work camp at Franklin Correctional Institution I n Carrabelle, would be conducted Monday.
“We understand that’s the first day of schools,” he said. “We won’t roll out the buses until 10 a.m. that morning. We want to make this transition as easy as we possibly can.”
Culpepper said that he expected the intake process to be complete by Wednesday, at which time the work crew would resume.
“We hope you understand that all of those inmates have to be reentered into a database,” he said. “We hope by Wednesday we can start relocating those inmates back into the community to start work.”
Culpepper, who was accompanied by about 10 DOC officials, including FCI Warden Christopher Atkins, stressed that he did not foresee any cutbacks in inmate squads.
“My commitment to you is I don’t anticipate any disruption of inmate services that we provide to the city of Apalachicola,” he said.
He said that transportation of inmates, which is handled by the cities and counties and not by DOC, should not be an obstacle to continuation of inmate work squads.
“One non-DOC supervisor can transport up to 14 inmates by himself in a van. He doesn’t require a CDL (commercial drivers license),” Culpepper said. “You have four-man squads, that van can transport 14. We can make one trip across the river. It doesn’t require four different groups of staff to come pick the inmates up.
“I know there’s going to be some missteps,” he said. “I would ask that you call that warden right there. I think he’ll bend over backwards to see you continue to get the services.”
Culpepper said that he had been warned that visiting the Apalachicola city commission would be “like pouring salt in an open wound” but he took a different view.
“I’m not into what side of the river we’re on. I’m trying to work with everybody,” he said.
“Our community partnership with Bay City Work Camp goes back to 1989,” he said. “A lot of careers were built there and it provided a lot of assets to this community, and provided a lot of dollars for this town. The fact of the matter is it outlived itself.”
Culpepper said relocation to FCI Work Camp “is a logical thing for us to do” and will save millions of dollars.
“I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve had to evacuate that work camp,” he said. “Each year the wind load capability goes lower and there’s a lot of concern about the physical plant. It’s in a low-lying area.
“The good news is, unless they make a conscious decision to do so, nobody loses their job,” Culpepper said. “I can’t do anything about the loss the city is going to sustain. I can’t do anything about that.”
Apalachicola is expected to see a loss of about $150,000 in water and sewer revenue next year as a result of the closure.
At a breakfast hosted by FCI on Aug. 8, Culpepper said the relocation would not only preserve jobs, but add an additional 13 staff members, and an additional $425,000 salary dollars per year into the community. “It hasn’t come without scrapes and bruises along the way,” he said. “Some people aren’t happy.”
In his remarks to the breakfast, Atkins outlined how relocating medium security inmates from the main unit to the work camp will have an effect on the amount of smuggling by work crews of contraband, everything from cell phones to marijuana to tobacco, into the prison. He said much of this smuggling is done by work camp crews who are pressured by close custody inmates in the prison, who are there for life.
“These are very dangerous inmates that are in our prison right now, gang members and regular strongarmers,” he said.
In contrast, inmates assigned to work camps have less than 10 years left on their sentences, and are far less dangerous. “They have a little more to lose,” said Atkins.
Culpepper said DOC was prompted to make the move in order to reduce a current $43 million deficit. “The folks who work for DOC, we pay taxes too and we like to see our tax money used wisely too,” he said. “We had two work camps that closed that required people to move 100 miles away to find jobs.”