The state's plan to house some inmates in tents could save money, but it's drawing criticism.
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Florida's balmy winter temperatures have long been a draw for visitors eager to spend some time under canvas, sleeping on cots and enjoying the great outdoors. But a new plan to expose some of the state's inmates to the delights of year-round 'camping' has failed to evoke the same enthusiasm.
Faced with a budget deficit of $2.3 billion, Florida is saving money by buying giant tents to house prisoners at nine of its 137 facilities. With its prison population having passed 100,000 for the first time this month, corrections officials say that the hundreds of extra beds will also help address potential overcrowding problems.
So far 36 tents, each able to house 22 inmates, have been set up at eight prison sites in north Florida, and one in the south, and the state has 20 more in reserve.
Walter McNeil, secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, insists that the move is temporary and that the tents are "a precautionary measure" that he hopes not to have to use.
Prisoner advocates skeptical
However, his claims cut little ice with prisoners' advocates, who say that the state has taken a stride backwards by erecting the structures and that Florida's notoriously high summer temperatures will make conditions intolerable for those housed within.