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State shuts down controversial Largo prison work release center

7:29 PM, Jun 28, 2013   |    comments
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Largo, Florida - Sprayer in hand, Danny Czapiewski on Friday says good riddance to weeds and the prison work release center right behind his mobile home. He and others living nearby had complained about the center for years.

"Parties going on at 12, 1, 2 o'clock in the morning. That was a party house. That was not a half-way house," he said.

And that wasn't the worst of the problems there.

Last year, in two separate incidents, inmates who walked away committed violent crimes -- two murders and a rape.

RELATED: Escaped inmate pleads guilty in double murder

Goodwill Industries, which runs the place for the state, came under scrutiny and promised reforms. But complaints kept coming, so recently, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri conducted an undercover investigation.

The Sheriff's report released Thursday and sent to the state showed continued problems with inmate supervision and, on Thursday, the Sheriff told reporters he'd had enough. 

"They've got to change their ways or this place has to get shut down," he said.

State Senator Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also called Governor Scott on Thursday and asked that the facility be closed.

And it appears the State Department of Corrections listened. Early Friday morning, the state terminated its contract with Goodwill and bused out about 190 inmates. A DOC statement said that the Sheriff's report showed deficiencies that constituted "a real and immediate threat to public safety."

"I'm just very thrilled there was swift and effective action," Gualtieri said at a news conference Friday. "This is the way government should work."

No word on what might become of the Goodwill building, but the prison program there spread little of that; so for now news of its closure has neighbors like Czapiewski  "happier than a pig in a barnyard".

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