Goodwill Industries did not respond Friday to inquiries about the sudden closing of its prison work release center.
The Florida Department of Corrections buses carried away 190 inmates at about 4 a.m., ending months, if not years, of controversy.
"For years, it was a constant problem with the boom boxes and the music and playing," said Danny Czapiewaski, who lives in the Embassy Mobile Home Park behind the work release center.
"Residents would be hopping the fences late at night," said Park manager Jessie Buchholtz said. She credited Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri with responding to resident concerns months ago.
"He stepped up the sheriff's patrols in the cars throughout the park during the day to the point where the officers would stop people walking just to say, how are you today just wanted to let you know I'm here, we're concerned about your safety," Buchholz described.
Thursday, the sheriff disclosed another tactic: An 11-day undercover surveillance that documented lax supervision by facility staff and a variety of infractions by the inmates.
"My surprise was the volume of the inappropriate activity and that it was happening so blatantly," Gualtieri said Friday, adding an unreported escape was especially egregious.
"They just showed absolute incompetence on the part of the people there at that Goodwill Center" Gualtieri said. That was the incident cited by the DOC for the sudden closure.
Last year an inmate from the work release center was charged with murdering two men working inside a house in St. Petersburg. A few months later, another inmate was charged with the rape of a teenager.
The state did take action, reducing the inmate population from 280 to 190, removing violent offenders, imposing additional oversight requirements on Goodwill Industries and most recently, funding GPS tracking devices for 100 of the inmates.
"The problem was that some of the standards that the [corrections] department put into place were not adhered to by Goodwill." said State Senator Jack Latvala.
Steve Interdonatr repairs bicycles in a building next door to the work release center. Asked what impact the closure would have, he responded "The people in the neighborhood won't be afraid to ride their bikes by the parking lot, we'll probably have less incidences of attempted breakins, the people that live adjacent to the property won't be scared all of the time."
Citing security concerns, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections would not say where the inmates were taken. Park manager Buchholtz said " I don't care, out of our neighborhood, I don't care."
Goodwill issued the following statement about the closing:
Goodwill re-entry centers are designed to help those Floridians who've been in prison make a successful transition back into society. We do this as a way to serve our communities and help those who have been incarcerated find jobs once they are released. Goodwill helped pioneer work release more than 50 years ago and these programs work. Multiple studies have shown that work release programs significantly reduce the rates of recidivism.
We would like to clarify the timeline regarding the offender escape that was mentioned in the news. Our surveillance shows the offender left the facility at 12:40 a.m. We discovered he was not in his bed at 4:16 a.m. We then immediately searched the facility and completed that search at 4:52 a.m. At that point, we called the Department of Corrections first, which we are required to do. We then made a series of additional calls, also required, and once those calls were complete, we called the Sheriff's office at 5:47 a.m. At 5:50 a.m. Goodwill staff confronted individuals in a white vehicle who were found to be from the Sheriff's office. We then continued to work closely with all authorities until the offender was arrested.
Goodwill does great work to help people in our community. Day in and day out, we are focused on our mission, which is to help people achieve their full potential through the dignity and power of work.
--Deborah A. Passerini, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries-Suncoast
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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