TALLAHASSEE — Florida, famous for shipping orange juice all over the country, may yet be known for a very different kind of export: criminals.
With the inmate population hovering around 100,000 and the state lacking money to build new prisons, the Legislature has given the corrections department the authority to ship inmates to other states for the first time.
''It's a safety valve,'' says the plan's sponsor, Sen. Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican who oversees prison spending. "This is not a mandate. It's a passive safety net.''
Crist said shipping prisoners would be considered only as a last resort to avoid the early release of inmates because of overpopulation. The cost would be agreed upon in talks with the receiving states.
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A prison bill (SB 1722) effective July 1 allows the state to ship inmates to state-run or private prisons in other states.
The nation's largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, houses prisoners from eight states, including California, and has long promoted the transfer idea in Florida, without success. Sen. Crist insists he came to this idea himself and not at the behest of the prison industry.
CCA calls itself ''the leader in out-of-state housing'' on its website. It operates 62 prisons and has thousands of surplus beds in other states that it is eager to fill with convicted felons, and Florida has the nation's third-largest prison system.
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