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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Corrections agency blames Broward sheriff for dust-up over re-entry program

In the continuing saga over the Florida Department of Corrections' decision to close down a Pompano Beach inmate transition center in Broward County on May 15, the agency is directing blame at the Broward County Sheriff for contributing to the crisis. 

Their statement is based on a January letter in which the Broward County sheriff declared that beginning Feb. 1 it would "no longer absorb" the cost of transporting former inmates -- more than 500 a year -- who were violating their probation from the FDC's Lauderdale Lakes to jail. Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones responded, saying that was a violation of state law and "contrary to public safety and your statutory duty. " When Broward didn't respond, they started looking around for a new location.

FDC now says it found its solution in Pompano Beach -- in the state building that now houses 172 inmate at the successful Bridges of America transition program.

Judging by the chain of emails and documents obtained by the Herald/Times, by deciding to close the Pompano Bridges of America transition center and using it to house the agency's consolidated probation office, FDC dealt with one problem by creating another. It dealt with the Broward Sheriff's Office by sending a conflicting message on its commitment to inmate re-entry programs. 

Bridges of America held a second press conference in two weeks Monday to keep the pressure on FDC to reverse its decision. This time, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, blasted the department for misleading him about the need to transfer the budget for the Bridges' program - which is run in from a state building where it pays no rent -- from the institutions budget to the programs budget, because he believed it might be less likely closed to make room for other programs. 

"This past session, I was afraid for this program,'' he said. But he said he was told by FDC staff "there was no need" to transfer the program to a different part of the budget. "I was lied to," he said.

Dominic Calabro of TaxWatch chided the agency for closing a program that saves taxpayer money by reducing recidivism. 

And Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the Herald/Times that while he has not spoken with Bridges of America CEO Lori Constatino-Brown about the issue, and hasn't "made a decision to try to help her yet."

But, Latvala said, "if the Legislature makes a decision that we're going to fund re-entry programs, they ought to be funded. In this particular case, the Legislature made a decision." 

There are lots of unanswered questions here and, judging by the answers from FDC, things just keep getting murkier.

It's clear the agency knew it was going to have a problem with its probation offices in January, when it was warned that the Broward sheriff wouldn't transport probation violators to jail. Did it ask the Legislature for help in finding a new facility or did it plan all along to target Bridges and use it as an opportunity to close down the facility of the private provider? Is there another private provider lining up to take the business or will FDC reduce the re-entry efforts? 

The agency has been unable to provide any evidence that it is not going to decrease the net number of re-entry positions with the closing of Bridges. When asked, FDC offers no explanation for how it will be replacing the 172 lost positions with additional positions at other facilities. 

Here's a timeline of what we know to date:

  • June 2015 - Lauderdale Lakes officials complain that the police can't spend as much time patrolling city streets as much as they used to because they busy transporting probation violators to jail -- a job the city claims should be paid for by the state of Florida, since those on probation are in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections. Since 1978, the city has had an agreement with the Broward Sheriff's Office to handle police services but those services were scaled back because of the city's financial woes in 2011.
  • Sept. 28, 2015 - The Department of Corrections issues a request for proposal seeking bids for the private vendors to manage the transition program at its Pompano Beach re-entry facility which Bridges of America currently runs. 
  • Jan. 6, 2016 - Corrections officials meet with representatives of the Broward Sheriff's Office and the City of Lauderdale Lakes to address concerns over the transportation of more than 500 probation offenders to jail, including the loss of nearly three of the five deputies for each transport.
  • Jan. 6 - In a letter to Deputy Secretary of Community Corrections Jenny Nimmer, Broward Sheriff Office's Jim Polan says that it can "no longer absorb the impact of these transports" and says that beginning Feb. 1, "the Broward Sheriff's Office will no longer respond to the Lauderdale lakes probation office" to transport violators to jail.  Download Letter_BCSO Probation (1
  • Jan. 25 - In a letter to the Broward Sheriff, FDC Secretary Julie Jones says their decision not to transport offenders to jail "is contrary to public safety and your statutory duty." She lays out the legal case and asks the sheriff to reconsider. There is no formal response.  Download Letter_FDC Response to BCSO (1)
  • Feb. 15 - Bridges of America submits its bid for services at the Pompano Beach center. It is the only bidder to respond.
  • March 22 -- Department of Corrections files a notice to reject all responses to its bid request saying it wants to try again to "increase competition."
  • March 24 -- Bridges of America files its intent to protest the bid rejection.
  • April 28 - In an email to Broward sheriff's assistant general counsel Terrence Lynch, FDC General Counsel Kenneth Steely asks for a conference call to address the concerns "raised raised by both the Sheriff’s Office and the representatives from the City of Lauderdale Lakes government who attended our meeting from earlier this year." He says that at that meeting city officials said they were "was considering a zoning ordinance to restrict FDC from having any probation office in Lauderdale Lakes, similar to ordinances passed in other municipalities in Broward  County."
  • April 28 -- Lynch responds in an email to Steely that he will "get back to you."
  • May 2 - FDC says that no inmate will be sent back to prison but will have the choice of moving to a work camp or other re-entry facility elsewhere in the state. It cannot say whether it will expand the number of re-entry beds in other parts of the state or not.
  • May 2 - Gov. Rick Scott, speaking on a panel at the Milken Institute in California, was asked what he was doing to reduce violent crime in this state. His answer:

"We've put a lot of effort into our reentry program so we've seen a reduction in our recidivism rates...We're making sure you get back in the workforce and become a solid citizen."

  • May 2 - Scott spokesman John Tupps says there is "no contradiction" between the governor touting the success of work release and re-entry programs while his corrections department is closing a re-entry program.

[Last modified: Monday, May 2, 2016 5:53pm]

    

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