A prisoner work release facility is under the microscope after three violent crimes were traced back to inmates staying there. The Department of Corrections recently inspected the Residential Re-Entry Center, which is located on U.S. 19 in Largo.
In just four months, two inmates of the Largo Residential Re-Entry Center have been at the center of terrifying crimes in two Pinellas County communities.
Michael Norris, 36, was arrested last October after police say he killed two men and then torched their home in St. Pete's Kenwood District.
Earlier this month, another inmate of the center, 28-year old Dustin Kennedy, was arrested after deputies say he attacked and raped a 17-year old girl on the way to her bus stop just off U.S. 19.
"There are deep concerns here. The children aren't allowed to play out front. They aren't even allowed to be in the yard by themselves. They can't walk from the bus. We just don't feel safe anymore," said Martha Nater-Colon, who lives near the work release center.
Steve Interdonato isn't surprised about the arrests at the center, which is just next door to his bicycle business. He's just angry.
"We protested, signed petitions, 'Don't put it here, it's going to endanger citizens. People are going to get hurt; it's going to destroy businesses,'" he said. "All of our worst fears came true. All of our community's worst fears came true."
The work release center is the largest in the state, housing nearly 300 male inmates. During a recent inspection, the Department of Corrections found plenty of flaws in the facility, which is run by Goodwill-Industries.
Investigators found illegal contraband in inmates' rooms and reported that staff members weren't doing regular searches. They also found troubling oversights in security, including surveillance cameras that "were not properly positioned" and areas in the back of the building that weren't well lit, creating blind spots in the compound's security.
Many of the citations were traced back to a shortage in staffing. Now, the Department of Corrections is ordering the facility to correct its shortfalls.
Still, some neighbors say the crackdown is too little, too late.
"It's like closing the fence after the horses are gone, so they tighten security? Tell that to the family of the 17-year old girl who got raped, or the family of the two people who were murdered," Interdonato said.
The Largo Residential Re-Entry Center was ordered to make all the changes by this week. The Department of Corrections says they have sent officials out to make sure the work is completed on schedule.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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