The doors of Hillsborough Correctional Institution, Florida’s only faith-based prison for women in Riverview were closed for good last month, as the more than 200 inmates were relocated to Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County.
After months of fighting to keep Hillsborough Correctional Institution, Florida’s only faith-based prison for women in Riverview open, supporters and volunteers had to concede as on Thursday, March 29, 2012, the last of the 217 inmates left the facility, which then closed its doors for good.
The facility has been slated to close before, but thanks to the efforts of the close to 400 committed volunteers and community leaders, the prison continued to provide the more than 75 educational and self-improvement programs claiming low (six percent) recidivism rates, and successful rehabilitation, its has managed to remain open.
Unfortunately, the Department of Corrections had a different set of numbers in mind and, in January 2012, it targeted Hillsborough Correctional Institution for closure to save more than $8 million a year.
“Declining prison admissions has led to a surplus of prison beds, allowing us to pare down our budget shortfall by consolidating and closing our older, less efficient facilities,” said Department of Corrections Secretary Kenneth Tucker.
With no word as to what is to happen with the 36-year-old prison building that is now sitting empty on a well-kept property located at at 11150 Highway 672 in Riverview, all inmates had been relocated to a new dorm at the Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County.
According to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff, it is hoped that once the program is set up inmates who were in the various programs at HCI will have the chance to do the same at Lowell.
A far cry for Sun City Center resident and longtime HCI volunteer Janet Smith, who would love to continue offering her classes going and keep her positive relationship with the inmates she has come to know and help over the years.
“I can visit them time to time, but it is too far to travel to hold the weekly classes,” Smith said. Some may be able to continue to offer their programs for a while, but that is not me.”
DOC is now promising to welcome the volunteers to the new facility claiming to posses a huge roster of more than 16,000, statewide, active volunteers, last year.
Lowell opened in 1956 and is now housing more than 1,400 female inmates.
As for local volunteers such as Smith and Bloomingdale artist, Minnette Webster, 74, who has volunteered her time and efforts by running an art program at HCI, the battle may have been lost but the war is not yet over.
“We are not giving up as this case is not closed just yet, “ Smith said referring to a complaint still pending, which questions the FDOC’s legitimacy of fulfilling its words to provide the same programs with the kind of results that has been proven by HCI over the years.
For more information please visit www.dc.state.fl.us.