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, reports, the Christian Science Monitor. 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. Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, and Hawaii are among states that have considered or used tents to manage prison populations.
Florida, with the third-largest corrections system in the U.S., (after California and Texas) is the biggest and the first to try it on such a scale. 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 tents are “a precautionary measure” that he hopes not to have to use. Prisoners’ advocates say the state has taken a stride backwards by erecting the structures and that Florida’s high summer temperatures will make conditions intolerable for those housed within. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue the last time that the Florida Department of Corrections used smaller tents to house inmates coming into the prison system before their assignment to a permanent facility. Although not specifically mentioned in the ruling, the tents were among a number of measures to tackle Florida overcrowding held unconstitutional in the 1977 Costello v. Wainwright case.