Advocates of an inmate re-entry program on Monday accused the Florida Department of Corrections of making a rash decision to close two of the program’s facilities, warning the decision could lead to an increase in recidivism.
The two re-entry centers, in Bradenton and Lauderdale Lakes, are run by the Florida Bridges nonprofit. They offer behavioral counseling and career training to inmates who are nearing the end of their sentences and have been hailed for producing graduates who are more than two times less likely than their traditional counterparts to return to prison within three years of their release.
Corrections officials, however, have decided not to renew the state’s contracts with the Bridges facilities. The move could result in the program’s participants being directed back to state prisons, potentially at an increased cost to taxpayers.
Sen. Greg Evers (R-Milton), who currently serves as chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, joined a press conference to rail against the decision as an act of betrayal by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.
"I was told there was no need," Evers said of the reaction by corrections officials to a measure he drafted that would have banned non-renewal of the Bridges contracts. "That they weren’t gonna close this program. So, I got off of a tractor today, put on a suit and came to Tallahassee because I was lied to."
Gov. Scott has been consistently criticized for his administration’s handling of Florida’s prison system. Scandals involving incidents of prisoner abuse have shone a public spotlight on chronic understaffing, middling pay and crumbling buildings.
While Scott’s handpicked corrections chief, Julie Jones, has pledged to secure increased funding and improve "working conditions" inside the system, the controversy over the Bridges contracts is seen by lawmakers like Evers as an indication that reform continues to be too slow in coming.
"We have to change Department of Corrections," Evers declared.