Once again, state prison officials are mounting a funding attack on Bradenton Bridge, Manatee County’s transitional and work-release center for women serving sentences for nonviolent crimes and recovering from substance abuse. This time, however, the Florida Department of Corrections is manipulating funding figures and misleading the public on the potential savings under a new in-prison system, according to a Politico Florida analysis released last week.
Bridges of America, the Bradenton center’s parent organization, and other community-based facilities sit in the DOC’s cross-hairs. But the state’s justification comes with questionable budget figures that only serve to validate the defunding.
The agency intends to send inmates back behind prison walls and into a new rehabilitation program based on a scientific needs-assessment system called Spectrum. After DOC announced what the agency called the successful completion of the Spectrum pilot program in September, the department also revealed plans to deploy the system statewide and shutter all community-based, prison-to-society re-entry programs within 18 months — all 688 substance-abuse treatment beds.
Bradenton Bridge holds more than 120 of those, and its contract with the state expires in July. The DOC’s 2017-2018 budget currently does not contain funding for the center, but a final decision likely depends on the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.
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The corrections agency claims private organizations providing substance abuse re-entry programs are too expensive, estimating transition facilities such as Bradenton Bridge cost some $52 daily per inmate while the state can lower that figure to $13 a day, ballyhooed as proof of the agency’s assertion that in-prison treatment would quadruple the number of inmates served over community-based care.
But the Politico analysis challenges the agency’s conclusions, saying the estimated cost per inmate for treatment inside prisons is almost identical to the private provider figure when all of the expenses are included. The state failed to do that.
Politico’s investigation uncovered a morass of agency budget manipulations — with DOC citing various pots of money in the state budget available to the agency. The department contends shifting large amounts around without legislative approval is acceptable. Politico found the multimillion-dollar totals exceed the amount state law allows without securing lawmaker permission. That should open the door to legislative scrutiny of the agency’s actions on this major policy change — and possibly deny the shift.
The organization also pored over various depositions in its study, and in one a DOC employee admitted the agency did not calculate whether the department would realize cost savings to its entire budget. That is the mission Gov. Scott gave to DOC Secretary Julie Jones.
How can the agency justify this policy change without proving there would be lower overall costs? Why didn’t DOC calculate the total budget savings? That figure should be calculated and submitted to the governor, lawmakers and the public.
This marks the third time in the past few years the state has attempted to defund community-based centers across the state. DOC is tone deaf to the numerous testimonials about the life-nurturing value of community-based inmate treatment, transitional housing and work-release centers.
Many current and former Bradenton Bridge women credit the center for steering their lives down a positive road. The facility offers adult basic education, culinary fundamentals, anger management, budgeting, computer training and employability skills. Plus, the center teaches problem solving, critical thinking, conflict resolution and recovery maintenance skills. Successful re-entry into the community through such programs is essential to public safety and inmate progress.
Upon completion of the transition program, convicts are eligible for the community release program. The women are required to be gainfully employed and also pay for their room and board (thereby saving taxpayer money), set aside savings, send money home and make court-ordered payments. They also continue their treatment plan.
Plus, Bradenton Bridge holds a phenomenal record of success — with a low 5 percent recidivism rate.
What are the meaningful jobs inside a prison? How can inmates establish a savings account behind bars? Will training in life skills be lost?
This successful community-based model should be emulated, not destroyed.
The Legislature should take a hard look at the corrections department’s debatable claims.