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Offender re-entry center in Florida facing closure

May 11, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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The Florida Department of Corrections’ (DOC's) scheduled closure of a Bridges of America Substance Abuse Transition and Re-Entry Center (SATREC) in Broward County is rapidly approaching, but the organization is not ceding its space quietly and it isn’t alone in its opposition to the plan.

The DOC has informed Bridges it intends to close the facility in Pompano Beach next Monday, May 16, and will repurpose the space for other department functions, including probation and parole offices.

“Given the importance of these SATREC programs (the Department's own recidivism report of 2014 indicated that men and women in community transition centers have a recidivism rate of only 10% and 5% respectively), and particularly with the long-standing success of the Broward (Pompano) SATREC and Bradenton SATREC programs, Bridges of America is devastated to learn that the Department will end this critical program in one of the most populated areas of our state and implores the Department to reconsider this drastic decision,” Bridges of America President and CEO Lori Costantino-Brown wrote in a letter posted on KeepTheBridgeOpen.com.

Shutting down the Broward Bridges program will affect 172 inmates, according to Bridges. However, the DOC says the inmates will be accommodated elsewhere in the state with uninterrupted service.

“Our agency will continue in its commitment to our inmates to provide services that ensure a successful transition into Florida’s communities,” DOC Secretary Julie Jones said in a statement. “Taking any action that reverses or stalls an inmate’s re-entry progress is counter to the Department’s mission and something that we will absolutely not allow to happen.”

Still, several Florida lawmakers have expressed doubt about the DOC’s course of action. On April 29, a letter signed by 17 members of the Florida House and Senate was addressed to Gov. Rick Scott and to Jones, protesting the decision.

Separately, State Sen. Greg Evers, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee, harshly criticized the DOC; he was quoted in a Tampa Bay Times article saying he was “lied to” about the department’s intentions. State Rep. Dana Young said in a Miami Herald article that the DOC’s decision to close the Broward Bridges facility was a “very abrupt change of course [that] seems rushed and not well thought out.”

Bridges of America faced a similar standoff with the Department of Corrections in 2012, when the department earmarked Bridges’ Broward and Bradenton facilities for closure as a result of budget cuts. But a compromise was reached, allowing the centers to remain open.

Costantino-Brown and the Florida legislators both have referenced a possible closure of the Bradenton facility on July 24, when its contract expires, but Jones said in her statement that no other centers will be closed.

Both the Broward County and Bradenton centers were pilot programs launched in 2005 to assist inmates with substance use problems in successfully re-integrating with their communities upon their release from prison.

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