A Florida operator of community-based transition programs for offenders, ex-felons and probation populations is once again at odds with the state’s corrections department, this time over a plan to eliminate 688 transition beds and reallocate funds toward in-prison treatment services.
Using its new Spectrum needs assessment system, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) says it can treat a greater number of inmates within its correctional facilities compared to the percentage of its population currently served. But Bridges of America, the largest operator of community-based transitional facilities under the current model, argues that the FDC’s cost calculations are misleading and that the treatment model it is proposing is akin to going from “feeding this many guys properly” to “giving a whole bunch of guys crumbs,” in the words of Bridges CEO Lori Costantino-Brown.
“In a nutshell, what the department is looking at is how to serve more clients and not looking at the service to see if it’s really going to be effective,” Costantino-Brown tells Addiction Professional. “They are taking a program that has, per their documentation, the lowest recidivism rate to expand one of the programs that had the least amount of effect.”
According to data from the 2013-14 Department of Corrections Bureau of Transition and Substance Abuse Treatment Services annual report, which was provided to Addiction Professional by Bridges, three-year recommitment rates for those completing treatment were as follows, categorized by type of program:
Program centers (86% of these beds are in community programs, such as Bridges): 17.5% recommitment
Therapeutic community (74% of these beds are behind the wall): 28.6% recommitment
Intensive outpatient (all of these beds are behind the wall): 34.7% recommitment
As it looks to reshape its treatment services, the FDC is banking on a new tool to help guide in-prison treatment. In a September news release, the FDC touted its Spectrum system as a tool that will provide information on inmates and offenders that will help create a “right services, right time” model that builds “individual re-entry and rehabilitation plans for those under our supervision.”
In a statement emailed to Addiction Professional, the FDC says it spends $15.5 million—60% of its substance abuse treatment budget—to cover the costs of the 688 transition beds in question. By contrast, it spends $10.9 million for approximately 2,539 in-prison treatment beds. Under its proposed new model, the FDC says it can treat four times as many inmates for the same amount of money.
Bridges argues that the FDC’s calculations don’t include the cost of ancillary items such as security, which are factored into the $52-per-day cost of treatment at Bridges. An analysis by Politico pins the actual cost of treatment under the new FDC plan at $56.12 per day, a report the department has forcefully disputed.
Bridges has filed a motion to challenge the FDC’s plan on the grounds that the department cannot reallocate the funds in question without a sign-off from the state legislature because $15.5 million—the amount the FDC is spending on transition beds—is well above the threshold for moving funds between budget entities without approval from lawmakers.
“These services will be paid from existing funding,” the FDC said in its email to Addiction Professional. “The Department has not, and will not, act outside of its legislative spending authority.”
A decision in the case is expected within the next two weeks.
Bridges of America and the Florida Department of Corrections have a history of not seeing eye to eye. Most recently, the two parties squared off earlier this year over the closure of Bridges’ Broward County facility.
Asked if she believes past encounters between the FDC and Bridges have played a role in this latest dispute, Costantino-Brown paused before answering.
“It’s hard not to take it personally,” she says. “They’ve been deceptive. Whether that’s personal toward me or just the way they operate, I can’t tell you. Certainly there’s a trust issue. And I don’t think anything we do will be safe.”