LARGO - The state Department of Corrections this morning closed a work-release center in Largo that was the largest in Florida, citing public safety concerns.
Roughly 190 inmates were moved about 4 a.m. from the Largo Residential Re-entry Center, which was run by Goodwill Industries.
The center housed inmates transitioning from Florida prisons to the outside world. Inmates lived there from three to nine months, working at least 35 hours per week, and received help finding work, attended counseling sessions and life skills classes, according to Goodwill's website.
Goodwill officials could not be reached for comment.
The state closed the center after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office conducted an 11-day surveillance operation, spurred by complaints from people living near the center, which is on U.S. 19, just north of Roosevelt Boulevard. Detectives observed inmates going to liquor stores and motels and stashing contraband items in nearby locations, said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who blasted Goodwill for lax supervision.
"These are inmates - they are supposed to go to work and come back," he said. "They were doing whatever they wanted."
Gualtieri's report was backed up by state Senator Jack Latvala, who reported the problems to Gov. Rick Scott.
In an email sent to the media this morning, Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews said the agency had terminated its contract with Goodwill. The department moved to close the center after the sheriff's investigation uncovered a "real and immediate threat to public safety."
There have been several violations at the center, including inaccurate inmate counts and an escaped inmate who went undetected for more than three hours.
"Those residents out there have peace of mind that they didn't have yesterday," said Gualtieri,