Debt-ridden prison system shuts re-entry centers
The deficit-plagued Department of Corrections, struggling to close an estimated $79 million budget hole, is closing two minimum-security re-entry centers in Pompano Beach and Bradenton. The centers, run by a private provider, the faith-based Bridges of America, care for more than 300 men and women inmates. The centers will close March 31 and the inmates will be shipped to state-run facilities at a time when the system has about 12,000 empty beds.
Re-entry centers help prepare inmates for the transition to freedom in the last 18 months of their sentences. They receive drug treatment, job training, life skills and other programs.
Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker notified Bridges officials of the decision, citing "difficult budgetary restraints and ongoing business reductions" in the agency. Bridges CEO Lori Constantino-Brown said she knows of no other centers that are closing. "We feel we were singled out," she said.
Constantino-Brown said that since 2005, when Bridges got the contract to run the centers, it has spent $4.2 million in improvements to the two centers. Because the centers are closing in the last quarter of the fiscal year, she said, the state will realize a savings of about $1 million.
The decision drew immediate criticism from Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the Fort Lauderdale Republican who chairs the Senate budget subcommittee on criminal justice. "That makes no sense. Re-entry is cheaper," Bogdanoff said.