LARGO, Fla. - Largo residents are thrilled that a neighborhood nuisance is now out of business.
State officials closed down the Goodwill-operated work-release center on US 19 early Friday morning after numerous complaints.
People in the Embassy Mobile Home Park live right behind the work-release facility. They say inmates were serving time, but supervision was seriously lacking.
One resident, Danny Czapiewski, said, "I never thought they would shut it down because of politics, but God bless the person responsible."
Czapiewski does his part to keep his neighborhood looking good. And he says there is a sense of relief here, now that the work release center next door is out of business.
"Now I don't have to keep looking over my shoulder every time you see a stranger in the park."
Concern over the place grew last fall, when one inmate killed two people in St. Petersburg, and another raped a teenage exchange student.
Improvements were promised, but after a surveillance operation, the Pinellas County Sheriff's office found more suspicious behavior.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said, "My surprise was the volume of the inappropriate activity and that it was happening so blatantly to the extent that it was."
Yesterday, Governor Rick Scott got word about the continued problems at the center and immediately directed the Department of Corrections to close it down. Inmates were shipped out and the state's contract with Goodwill terminated.
State Sen. Jack Latvala/(R) of District 20 said, "I expected they'd come down pretty hard on Goodwill, but I was frankly expecting that we would have to keep up the pressure a little longer."
Added Gualtieri, "I think the residents out there, today should give them great piece of mind and I think there community is safter today than it was yesterday."
The Department of Corrections said the most egregious violation involved an inaccurate inmate count that allowed a missing inmate to go unnoticed for three hours.
The inmates formerly housed at the complex were bussed out of Pinellas County at 4:00 in the morning, and will be put in other facilities.
Goodwill responded Friday afternoon in writing:
We are disappointed by the decision to shut down our Largo facility.
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