Florida Keys

Last clang of the bars for Keys prison as inmates are moved to mainland

This is the warden's house at the Big Pine Prison in 1957. The prison became known as the Big Pine Road Prison.
This is the warden's house at the Big Pine Prison in 1957. The prison became known as the Big Pine Road Prison.

It was a place for minimum-custody inmates who helped maintain U.S. 1 and saved taxpayers millions of dollars, and it is no more.

The gates of the state-run Big Pine Key Road Prison closed for good April 14.

Ashley Cook, press secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, told the Keynoter that the prison’s 60 inmates have been move to the Dade Correctional Institution near Florida City.

Plans for the prison at 450 Key Deer Blvd. are still up in the air, according to Kate Deloach, district aide to state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo.

Deloach said she talked to Florida Department of Transportation representatives in Tallahassee this week who said they’re still working on what they plan to do with the prison property. The state-owned 10.17-acre prison property was being leased to the DOT.

“They will likely be able to give us more information after session,” she said. The last day of the legislative session is May 5.

A contract between the DOT and Infrastructure Corporation of America to oversee road maintenance along a large portion of U.S. 1 was in place for more than 15 years at an annual rate of $630,000 for the work of the 60 inmates.

Now, 22 ICA employees will do the work and the hiring process is ongoing for maintenance workers at $16 an hour plus benefits, or $30,720 a year. Seven workers have been hired along with three crew leaders who are making $22 an hour.

“We’re about a third of the way there,” ICA project manager Donald Downing said about the hiring process. “We promoted one of our technicians to fill one of the crew leader positions and hired two others.”

One is a former corrections officer from the prison. The other 23 corrections officers, a secretary and food service supervisor were offered jobs elsewhere, but Cook did not specify where.

The ICA workers are mainly picking up debris along U.S. 1, Downing said, which was what the prisoners did among other things like asphalt and sidewalk repair, mowing, weed control, tree trimming and litter removal.

The prison, which has been open since 1957, closed after infrastructure upgrades were projected in excess of $1 million. Sewer system hookups were one of the main reasons costs outweighed the benefit of keeping the prison open.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219