A smooth-running, efficient machine that reduces expenses should be highly prized even duplicated to spread the success. That would happen in the private sector but in government circles the bean counters are sadly lacking in long-term vision as they scramble for budget cuts.
Even though one year’s spending reduction is next year’s extra expense, at a much higher cost, bureaucrats appear blinded by immediate results.
That’s the case with the Florida Department of Corrections decision to eliminate funding and shutter two eminently successful inmate re-entry centers in Bradenton and Pompano Beach.
These valuable faith-based, privately-run centers help inmates with skills training and employment so they can become better citizens upon completing their sentences.
Bradenton Sen. Mike Bennett put the pending closures in succinct and impeccable terms: ”Why would we want to get rid of programs that work? That’s absolutely crazy.”
Other legislators are equally angry and justifiably so.
While the Department of Corrections must slash $79 million to balance its budget, the estimated $1 million in savings with these two closures will only cost the state more as the estimated 300 inmates at the transition centers are tossed back into general prison populations. That is unacceptable and backwards public policy.
Bradenton Bridge, operated by the not-for-profit Bridges of America, currently houses 120 nonviolent women inmates.
Three dozen hold jobs, and many more perform volunteer services around Manatee County. They can also attend classes and treatment programs.
Not only is the daily cost of housing these inmates far cheaper than a traditional prison, the recidivism rate is far better only one in 10 after three years compared with four in 10 for prisoners who did not benefit from re-entry services.
The savings to taxpayers is readily apparent, so much so that it’s a wonder the DOC is preparing to close these centers. These re-entry facilities are a savings bonanza for the state.
Beyond money, the vastly lower recidivism rate is a boon to public safety with fewer crimes being committed.
That alone should be reason enough to retain these transition centers. Rehabilitation should be just as important as punishment, even moreso.
So why are the centers on the chopping block?
More prudent lawmakers are demanding a cost analysis detailing how these closures will actually save the state money.
We expect those findings will reveal what Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino noted in Friday’s guest column that the centers cost $500,000 less than imprisonment would.
The Department of Corrections must rescind this closure order, due to be implemented on March 31.
If not, this week legislators should demand a reversal before the regular session closes on Friday.