mack bernard_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

The impoverished Glades area of Palm Beach County, where unemployment is hovering around 40 percent, is bracing for a further economic hit with the possibility that the Glades Correctional Institution, one of the area’s largest employers, may be closed.

The Legislature, in its session that ended a week ago, isn’t funding the facility for the upcoming fiscal year, according to one lawmaker, and current funding will dry up on June 30, according to some published reports.

The prison’s website indicates the facility employs 346 workers, many of whom are minorities and residents of the Glades. They could stand to suffer if the facility closes, says state Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach.

Bernard’s District 84 includes Belle Glade, where many residents work in the sugar cane industry, for the School District of Palm Beach County or at Glades Correctional, the largest employers in the region.

Mayor Steve Wilson of Belle Glade says closure of the prison would hurt not just the western communities of Palm Beach County but would have a catastrophic economic impact overall.

“We already have a 40 percent unemployment rate over here, so if you closed down one of the largest employers, it would literally destroy the communities of Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee,” Wilson said.

Bernard and Wilson are leading an effort to keep Glades Correctional open and will meet with officials of the Florida Department of Corrections this Friday. They will tour the prison and discuss the impact of its impending closure on the community, Bernard said.

Officials have previously said the facility is old and too costly to operate, at $64 per day per prisoner, compared to Okeechobee Correctional Facility at $38 per day, according to reports.

 Gretl Plessinger, head of communication for the Department of Corrections, was not available for comment. 

Glades Correctional is the state’s second oldest prison, built in the 1940s. Bernard agrees the facility is outdated but maintains it needs to remain open to protect the jobs of employees.

“We understand some of their concerns but, at the same time, we believe that the concerns of the residents of this community must be considered. This is an area that does not need more unemployment,” Bernard told South Florida Times.

Bernard is hoping Secretary of Corrections Edwin Buss will keep the facility open.

“In the current budget for fiscal year 2011-2012, they did not fund GCI.  However, the Secretary of Corrections has the latitude and the ability to fund it if necessary, so we’re working with the secretary’s office and they’ve been working with our community and so far we don’t believe it is closing,” Bernard said Tuesday.

Wilson also remains hopeful but says no one has told him the plan for the facility.

“I’m confident and hopeful that the powers-that-be would do the right thing and make the right decision for the people,” Wilson said.

The Palm Beach Post, in a story on May 11, quoted a Corrections spokesperson as confirming Glades Correctional is being considered for closure but that no decision had been made.  The story said Buss is reviewing the options.

The Department of Corrections in a statement in March did not include Glades Correctional as  among the prisons targeted for closure as part of a prison consolidation plan to save money. 

Hendry Correctional, Hillsborough Correctional, Brevard Correctional, Tallahassee Road Prison, Lowell CI Boot Camp and Sumter Boot Camp were listed for closure.

But a recent Palm Beach Post report quoted a director of the Police Benevolent Association as saying lawmakers scrapped a plan to close a Tampa area facility and, instead, decided to close Glades Correctional. 

The prison closures are part of a consolidation plan that will save the state $30.8 million annually and another $25 million in cost avoidance that would have been necessary to repair aging facilities, officials have stated. 

As part of their budget cutting during the recent Legislative session, legislators ordered corrections officials to privatize all prisons in the southern part of the state by Jan. 1. That move has outraged some lawmakers, among them state Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami, who said privatization would lead to the loss of 1,700 jobs.

Daphne Taylor may be reached at