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Florida Prisoners Will Wash Dishes and Sew Their Own Clothes in Bid to Save Money

| September 26, 2013

Soon they'll be holding up fashion certificates. (Florida Department of Corrections)

Soon they’ll be holding up fashion certificates. (Florida Department of Corrections)

Inmates are sewing their own clothes and will soon start washing dishes by hand in sinks they’ve built themselves.

It’s all part of Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews’ attempt to whittle a nearly $50 million deficit in this year’s $2.1 billion budget.

Crews told the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday that he’s on a cost-cutting mission to reduce the deficit, which stems from issues such as health care costs.

Thus far, Crews said he’s saved nearly $900,000 by re-bidding the agency’s contract for paper towels and toilet paper, about $254,000 by de-privatizing pest control services and more than $500,000 by buying used cars for probation officers, thus doing away with mileage reimbursements. The agency also saved about $600,000 through consolidating office leases.

DOC also saved $18 million by getting federal assistance for HIV-AIDS medications, $3.5 million with a new drug formulary for some medications and $1.4 million by changing inhaler protocols, Crews said.

Mothballing kitchen equipment in the state’s aging prisons won’t just give inmates dishpan hands — it’s another way Crews plans to scrimp.

Crews said dishwashers “are starting to tear up” and are expensive to repair. Instead of purchasing three-sink combos required for safe scrubbing, Crews said his staff suggested that they could build the sinks themselves, possibly with inmate assistance.

Meanwhile, the prisoners have also started to sew their own uniforms as well as their bedclothes, Crews said.

“Sometimes when you ride by it looks like Fred Sanford’s house. We actually hang the clothes out to dry,” Crews, who in December became the sixth secretary in six years at the agency.

What seems like small-change savings given the size of the red ink “may seem miniscule, but I do want the committee to understand we’re doing everything we can to help and get us out of this deficit,” Crews said.

Crews expects an update on the projected deficit, now estimated at $45.4 million, in two weeks. That’s less than half of November’s projected $119 million deficit, thanks to about $43 million from the Legislature, a hiring freeze and a high vacancy rate due to turnover.

Crews said the agency was responsible for at least part of the deficit by failing to control health-care costs. DOC has contracted with two private firms, Corizon and Wexford, to provide health care and, the agency hopes, keep in check spending on services for an aging prison population as well as ailing inmates. The outsourcing is supposed to be completed Oct. 13 and is expected to save between $40 million and $50 million annually, Crews said.

But Crews blamed some of the deficit on factors beyond his control, including bid protests, a nine-month legal challenge to the health care privatization and a dispute over the broader privatization of more than half of the state’s prisons approved by lawmakers two years ago but later overturned by the courts.

The department achieved some savings by shuttering 10 prisons in recent years but held off on closing Glades Correctional Institution in 2012 for more than six months because of lawmakers’ and local community leaders’ concerns about the impact on an already blighted economy. The delay added more than $6.7 million to the deficit, Crews explained.

Extra overtime costs caused by switching to 12-hour daily shift and bid protests also contributed to the deficit, Crews said.

Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the agency’s budget has been slashed by more than $484 million over the last five years, even though the inmate population has gone up.

“We didn’t get here overnight and we’re not going to cure it overnight,” Bradley said of the deficit.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, suggested saving money by again considering the controversial privatization plan pushed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“I’m not disparaging those that are there working. We need them. But when NASA wants to service the international space station they turn to the private sector. When we landed a man on the moon that was a private company. I think our governor’s right on target,” Altman said. [Altman is wrong: the Apollo program was entirely government-conceived, government-led and government-funded, with private contractors fulfilling various aspects of the program, such as the Grumman corporation building the lunar module.]

But Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth suggested lawmakers could generate bigger savings by sending fewer inmates to prison in the first place, especially those with addiction problems.

Bradley agreed, saying the majority of inmates convicted of drug-related crimes spend less than two years behind bars.

“They’re not getting treatment. They’re being housed. And I don’t know how smart that is,” Bradley said.

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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10 Responses for “Florida Prisoners Will Wash Dishes and Sew Their Own Clothes in Bid to Save Money”

  1. John Boy says:

    We’ll desource something to save money by bringing it back in house, we’ll outsource something else to save money. These clowns have no idea of what they doing unless it comes to outsourcing contracts to ensure future jobs for themselves and their cronies and political contributions (bribes) for their Tea Baggers friends.

  2. flaglerresident says:

    Also what is not smart is having a large population of people housed together wash their own dishes. The dishwasher sterilizes the dishes by heating the dishes to 160 degrees for several minutes and if this is not done, the spread of disease is imminent causing the health care costs to rise for food borne illness and other communicable disease that are spread through saliva. If this was the case, every small business restaurant would be handwashing their own dishes to save money by not purchasing this expensive equipment.

    Newton’s Third Law can be applied to life in all aspects, not just physics. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. While you will be saving money in the very short run, the long run your long term health care costs will rise on supportive care for viral infections that spread rampant throughout the facility. I would definitely like to see these numbers for the number of incidents of the common flu virus, food borne related illnesses, and other common communicable disease from current to three years down the road.

  3. You tell me says:

    From the picture it looks like more African Americans will be sewing than not. What race is Mike Crews?

    What is the money saved going to be spent on? Someone has to be getting a new position or raise.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Flaglerlive, please if I may? Slavery by Another Name is a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. It was a system in which men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters. Tolerated by both the North and South, forced labor lasted well into the 20th century.

    For most Americans this is entirely new history. Slavery by Another Name gives voice to the largely forgotten victims and perpetrators of forced labor and features their descendants living today.

  5. The Geode says:

    Don be FOOLED people! Prisons ALREADY have industrial dishwashers and all the larger prisons have industrial FULL-SIZED laundromats with several sewing machines to handle the needs of 500 – 800 plus inmates. NO prison including the work camps washes dishes by hand in sinks. Why they want you to believe such a lie is beyond me. Before You label me as a liar, I was unfortunate enough to have visited my share of prisons…

    • Nancy N. says:

      What lie? Did you read the article? No one said the prison facilities don’t have equipment. The article explained – accurately – that the DOC’s kitchen and laundry equipment is aging and breaking frequently and expensive to repair. They are planning to stop repairing it when it breaks and switch to using manual labor all the time, instead of just while they are waiting for the machines to be fixed. Which is a terrible idea especially in the case of the kitchens and washing dishes, because it will lead to widespread issues with illness in the camps from the job not being done properly. So any savings in the budget will get spent in medical.

  6. m&m says:

    At least they’re learning a skill..

    • Nancy N. says:

      Really? Are you serious? “I can handwash dishes” isn’t exactly something that will set you apart from 100 other people applying for a job.

      So what other skills do you propose we teach them? How about “how to empty a trash can” or “how to mow a lawn”?

      Yup, we’re building these people into productive future citizens with all these great job training programs.

  7. Sherry Epley says:

    Right on John Boy, FlaglerResident and You tell me! What an ignorant, short sighted policy! Next, we will hear that the “trustees” will be sewing their own uniforms so they can “serve” in the governor’s mansion, or remodel the warden’s house. Having anyone hand wash dishes is a sure way to higher health care costs.

    It appears the plea for rehabilitating drug addicts, instead of “housing” them in prison, yet again fell on deaf ears! The BEST way to save on the cost of prisons is to reduce the population of prisons! We should be humane and actually thoroughly TREAT mental illness and addictions (safely in long term”live in” medical facilities). . . instead of using prisons as a dumping ground for those who need help instead of just punishment.

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