One day before tough Florida “boot camp” reforms take effect, two sheriffs unexpectedly announced they’re closing their camps today, saying the legislature set too many expensive requirements while giving them too little to pay for them. The decision means Florida will only have one boot camp — in Polk County. Five were running on Jan. 5, the day 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was beaten by guards at a Panama City boot camp and died hours later. The death, still under investigation, led to the closure of the Panama City and passage of the Martin Lee Anderson Act. The act, which goes into effect tomorrow, renames the camps STAR academies and calls for more medical care, better-trained staff, and a ban on nonmedical use of chemical agents, such as the ammonia capsules implicated in Martin’s death.
Manatee Sheriff Charlie Wells complained that the reforms would leave him more than $1.5 million in the hole. ”The boy’s death was tragedy. But a net was thrown over all the boot camps and they were dragged in the boat,” he said. “It’s a darn shame that this has to end.” Wells complained that the law “wasn’t rationally discussed or debated. There was a lot of knee-jerk reaction.” Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats said his staff realized this month that the camp would need $1.2 million more after reviewing the law. ”It comes down to a business decision: Is it worth it for us to participate? And the answer, when we looked at it, was no,” he said. He wanted $3.6 million, but the legislature earmarked only $2.4 million.