Lawsuit over work camp gets July hearing 

BONIFAY – After the State of Florida vetoed an offer to settle, movement on a complaint by the Holmes County Development Commission (HCDC) against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) is moving forward with a status conference scheduled for July.

“We feel like the reverter provision was triggered and we want the court to give up a favor ruling to that effect,†said Ben Armstrong, Holmes County’s attorney, so that there’s no cloud to that title.â€

The development commission filed the complaint because the FDOC failed to comply with the terms of the 1991 agreement which gave the FDOC rights to use the 40-acre property for the Holmes Correctional Institution (HCI) site known as the Holmes County Work Camp. Part of the agreement states the camp must “employ a minimum of 35 persons at all times.â€

However, according to the complaint, FDOC “has continually failed to employ a minimum of 35 persons at the work camp since April 2021.â€

“They closed it during COVID, saying there was a shortage,†said HCDC Chairman Jeremy Rolling, noting it had been closed for a considerable amount of time. 

“We actually tried to settle the case and let the DOC have the property for $100,000 – which is what the property would have been worth in 1991,†he said. “Representative Shane Abbott put it in appropriations, but the governor vetoed it.â€

“So, now we’re saying that the property be reverted back to us,†Rolling added.

While the work camp has reopened and continues to operate on a limited basis, it is still not clear whether the operation includes 35 employees. 

Officials with HCDC say the best-case scenario is for the courts to respond in favor of the HCDC findings, which would return the property to HCDC. From there, the commission could use and lease the property however it determined would be in the best interest of the county.

“We feel like the reverter provision was violated,†Armstrong said, “and the courts will be the proper place to have the question answered for the both the Holmes County Development Commission and the State of Florida.â€

FDOC’s public affairs office was not available to comment at press time; however, FDOC stated last summer in a letter to the HCDC that plans to resume the camp’s operations with a “phasing in approach.â€

“The Florida Department of Corrections has been successfully recruiting staff to return a safe staffing level to Holmes Correctional Institution,†wrote FDOC Executive Senior Attorney Gretchen Kelley Brantley in July 2022. â€œOur ability to reopen the Holmes Work Camp will further the efforts of the FDC to return the lower risk inmates into the appropriateenvironment in support of the overall mission at Holmes C.I.â€

Holmes County Advertiser will report more details as this story continues to develop.

Holmes County Advertiser Publisher Carol Kent contributed to this report.

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