GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida has evacuated 4,000 prisoners from nearly three dozen facilities statewide ahead of approaching Hurricane Idalia, moving inmates to more robust buildings better equipped to survive what are expected to be dangerous conditions.
The Department of Corrections said Tuesday some of the smaller prisons, work release centers and work camps, including the Cross City Work Camp in Dixie County along Florida’s Big Bend and the Tallahassee Community Release Center in the state capital, are directly in the path of the storm.
State prisons across the region also suspended visitation after the storm makes landfall on Wednesday as expected. Those prisons are in Bradford, Hardee, Jefferson, Madison, Marion, Madison, Sumter, Suwanee, Union and Volusia counties.
Extra food and water were being prepared for delivery to prisons in Hurricane Idalia’s path. The agency said major prisons have also been equipped with backup generators, and that it was prepared to serve bagged meals and bottled water in the event of power failures or dangerous conditions that prevent inmates from leaving their cells.
Meanwhile, sheriffs operating county jails in the path of the approaching hurricane said Tuesday they expect buildings will withstand pounding winds and were prepared for inmates to ride out the storm conditions with backup generators to restore power.
Directly in the storm’s path is the Lake City Correctional Facility in Columbia County, operated by Tennessee-based private prisons contractor CoreCivic, which also manages the Citrus County Detention Facility in Lecanto.
A CoreCivic spokesman, Brian Todd, said both facilities had backup generators, and the company will coordinate with local emergency response agencies and follow their directions.
Officials in Levy County – along Florida’s east coast and in the path of the hurricane – said they didn’t expect to evacuate the jail, which houses about 150 inmates. Lt. Scott Tummond said he believes it is properly equipped for the amount of rainfall.
“We have withstood lots of rainfall in the past,” he said. “I don’t see anything being any different in this event, other than we’re looking at much higher wind speeds if we take a direct hit. The structure is hardened and capable of withstanding, I think, a (Category) 5 hurricane. So the infrastructure of the building itself is probably the safest place in the county.”
Tummond said electrical blackouts were likely, and backup generators were in place.
Registered sex offenders in Levy County won’t be admitted to normal community shelters and will have to report to the county jail for shelter.
Authorities in Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee, also said they didn’t foresee needing to evacuate inmates. Lt. Carlos Johnson said the jail in Perry, Florida, houses 101 inmates who are expected to weather the hurricane in their cells. He said blackouts are possible, but generators are ready.
Taylor County is one of several areas bordering Apalachee Bay, where no major hurricane has ever passed through. The National Weather Service said Tuesday that Idalia’s arrival could be an unprecedented event.
In Franklin County, southwest of Tallahassee along the Gulf Coast, Sheriff A.J. Smith said he didn’t believe the storm posed a threat to the county’s jail with its 72 inmates – unless the hurricane began tracking further west.
“It looks right now we’re going to be fine,” the sheriff said. “Unless it, you know, turns more to the west and then we’d have to reevaluate it. But right now we should be good.”
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can donate to support our students here.