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 change course, FDC started looking around for a new location to handle more than 5600 offenders on probation in the county.
FDC now says it found its solution in Pompano Beach -- in the state building that now houses 172 inmates 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: