Work release residents sent back to prison for violations as DOC cracks down on Largo facility

LARGO, Fla - A Goodwill-badged work-release center at 16432 US 19 N in Largo is the largest of its kind in the state, with scores of "in-the-process-of-returning-to-society" residents housed there, much to the chagrin of nearby residents.

"Beer cans, dope packages… they're over here all the time, breaking in."

Garvin Desjardin lives within a stone's throw of the ex-cons at the facility and he told me that he and his neighbors are very concerned about the proximity of the parolees -- especially after what's happened lately.  

Pinellas Sheriff's deputies arrested an resident inmate, Dustin Kennedy, and accused him of raping a 17-year-old girl he encountered while walking back from a job site in December and she was on her way to a school bus stop.

That unsettling incident coming after another inmate, Michael Scott Norris, was arrested in early October on a charge of killing two men Sept. 30 in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood of St. Petersburg.

Concerns of neighbors and local lawmakers forced the Department of Corrections to take action.

"The department takes Public Safety very seriously and to ensure public safety," said Ann Howard, the Department of Corrections Communications Director.  "The department has executed an unannounced security audit as well as canine search of the Largo facility."  

During that raid, a dozen cons  -- out of the 280 or so that live here -- were caught with some sort of contraband and they were sent back to the Polk Correctional Facility. Specifics on what was found were not released… nor were the names of those transferred back -- because it's still an open investigation.

"Does that put your mind at ease?" I asked Art Sherwood, who lives in the nearby Embassy Mobile Home Park.  "Well, somewhat," he said. "But the place is full of 'em ya know."

Indeed, for residents like Sherwood, there are still many more potential issues that they -- and the DOC -- will have to deal with.  Local legislators say they're going to fight for the law-abiding neighbors… and insist if the work release center doesn't clean up its act, it'll get booted out of the area.

Until then, it's wait, and watch.

"That thing right there is a threat," said Mr. Sherwood, motioning across the fence that separates his neighborhood from that of the cons.

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