At overcrowded Florida prisons, some inmates may just camp out
The state's plan to house some inmates in tents could save money, but it's drawing criticism.
Florida's balmy winter temperatures have long been a draw for visitors eager to spend some time under canvas, sleeping on cots and enjoying the great outdoors. But a new plan to expose some of the state's inmates to the delights of year-round 'camping' has failed to evoke the same enthusiasm.Skip to next paragraph
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Faced with a budget deficit of $2.3 billion, Florida is saving money by buying giant tents to house prisoners at nine of its 137 facilities. With its prison population having passed 100,000 for the first time this month, corrections officials say that the hundreds of extra beds will also help address potential overcrowding problems.
So far 36 tents, each able to house 22 inmates, have been set up at eight prison sites in north Florida, and one in the south, and the state has 20 more in reserve.
Walter McNeil, secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, insists that the move is temporary and that the tents are "a precautionary measure" that he hopes not to have to use.
Prisoner advocates skeptical
However, his claims cut little ice with prisoners' advocates, who say that the state has taken a stride backwards by erecting the structures and that Florida's notoriously high summer temperatures will make conditions intolerable for those housed within.
"In August, in a tent, with the heat in Florida, your brain's going to boil, and that ain't a very good thing," Mr. Sheppard says. "They've tried this before, and were made to take the tents down, now they're trying it again and it will fail again."
"The technology of the type of tent may have changed, and the law may have changed, but it didn't work then and it won't work now," he says.
The US Supreme Court addressed the issue the last time that the Florida Department of Corrections used smaller tents to temporarily house inmates coming into the prison system before their assignment to a permanent facility.
Although not specifically mentioned in the justices' decision at the time, the tents were among a number of measures adopted by Florida to tackle overcrowding that were ruled unconstitutional in the 1977 Costello v. Wainwright case.