State Sen. Jack Latvala calls for Department of Corrections review of Largo work release center

8:01 PM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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Largo, Florida -- State Sen. Jack Latvala is calling on the Department of Corrections to conduct a review of a Goodwill-run work release facility in Largo after two inmates from the center allegedly committed violent crimes in the community.

Michael Scott Norris is accused of killing two St. Petersburg men and setting a home on fire back on Sept. 30.

Dustin Kennedy is accused of raping a 17-year-old girl as she walked to her bus stop in Clearwater last month.

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Both Norris and Kennedy were inmates at the Largo Residential Re-Entry Center located at 16432 U.S. 19. The facility is run by Goodwill, but under the control of the Department of Corrections, and Friday morning Latvala called the DOC secretary to voice his concerns.

"I've asked for a full review, a case-by-case on every inmate that's there and I think that the department is taking this very, very seriously," Latvala told 10 News.

The Republican from Clearwater says he was also alarmed to learn on average an inmate escapes from the center about once every two weeks.

Officials say Norris escaped the facility before he committed double murder.

But a DOC spokesperson tried to downplay the issue of 27 escapes from the Largo center in the year, that ended June 30, by saying the frequency was only more common because of the large inmate population at the facility.

"The number of walk-aways at this particular facility are somewhat in line with the rest of the state in that it is the biggest in terms of sheer numbers. There are just more than 280 men at this particular facility," said DOC Communications Director Ann Howard.

Howard says the next largest work release center in the state was in Miami with 180 inmates.

But the sheer size of the facility is also something that has Latvala concerned.

"I drive by it quite frequently but I didn't know there [were] 280-inmates there and that's a huge number to be in the middle of the densest populated county in the state," he said.

Work release inmates are near the end of their sentences and generally work in the community daily. For the past 10 years, Latvala says the inmates have been left to their own to get to and from work. But he says the recent alleged crimes by Norris and Kennedy suggest that also needs to change.

"Just using a bicycle, or walking, or public transportation leaves a lot to chance there and I'm very sorry that this has happened in this community and -- now that this has happened and it's in my district now -- I'm going to look into it very carefully."

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