MANATEE -- A transition and work release facility for inmates risks being shuttered this summer, according to the facility's operator.
Bradenton Bridge, which provides women who have spent years in prison with counseling, classes and employment opportunities, may be closed on July 24 when the state's contract with Bridges of America, the facility's operator, expires. This is the second time in the past few years the facility, 2104 63rd Ave. E., Bradenton, has faced closure.
"Bradenton does not have a contract and it is going to officially shut when the contract expires in July unless the department does something different," Lori Constantino-Brown, president
and CEO of Bridges of America, said Thursday. "There is no extension."
Bridges of America was the sole responder to the state Department of Corrections' Request for Proposals, which isn't uncommon, Constantino-Brown said. But since they were the only proposal submitted, the state said they would be reissuing the bid request to seek additional proposals, she added.
The agency also requested for extensions for both the Bradenton and Broward County facilities, which were denied, Constantino-Brown said. The Broward County facility, which is expected to close next month, is being turned into offices.
"I think if Broward successfully closes, Bradenton is doomed," she said. "Here we are once again in the crosshairs. Our governor is taking no action, although he is completely aware of what's going on. My concern is that Bradenton is still on the chopping block."
But a state official says there is no intention to stop using the Bradenton facility for work release.
"The department intends at this time to continue to utilize all other Bridges locations as work release facilities include the Bradenton facility," McKinley Lewis, the state's Department of Corrections spokesman, said Thursday. "There is no intention to stop utilizing that one."
Lewis added that he believes "the department is in litigation over the location," and pending the active litigation will determine who will operate the facility.
The state hasn't given any straight answers for anything, Constantino-Brown said, adding they are being told they can't talk about the Bradenton facility because of the current litigation regarding the Broward facility.
"They feel they can't move forward to do anything on Bradenton," she said. "Their actions are certainly speaking louder than their words. This doesn't make sense. You don't close these programs down for any reason, particularly office space. Women's programs even more so because there are just so few resources for the growing population of female inmates that we have in this state."
With Bridges of America's contract set to expire in July, the state has no vendor set up to go into the Bradenton facility, Constantino-Brown said.
"Heck, yeah we want it," she said of wanting to remain as the facility's operator. "We are fighting for it. We are fighting for these clients."
The Bradenton facility has a 5 percent recidivism rate, the lowest in the country, Constantino-Brown said.
"These programs are designed to help inmates reenter the community successfully," she said. "From our level and our perspective, this is about men and women getting a second chance, getting the help they need to be successful."
The Bradenton Bridge is "very, very important to Manatee County," Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said.
"It takes the women that have been incarcerated and have less than two years on their sentences in this home-like setting where they develop sisterships and bonds with the fellow residents and they begin to transition back into a normal way of life," she said. "That center offers them stability, offers them education and training and skill sets that they can cope with reentry."
The program in the long run will save the state and taxpayers' money, DiSabatino said.
"I'm hoping that our legislators can look into this because it really is a benefit for individuals, community and society as a whole to provide other programs for women, other options for them to become engaged and back in society."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.