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Prison Transition Groups Line Up Against Corrections Dept.

Former Bridges resident Desi Hall.
Nick Evans

Community re-entry organizations across the state are criticizing the department of corrections because they believe the agency is preparing to de-fund their operations. 

Bridges of America attempts to ease prisoners’ transition back into the community with substance abuse treatment and employment assistance.  It’s been partnering with the Florida Department of Corrections since the 1980s, and it’s spent most of the past year wondering if that relationship will see another year.  The department tried to wind down a Broward county facility this spring, and now Bridges of America CEO Lori Constantino-Brown says an Orlando facility is in danger. 

But it’s not just Bridges.

“These sweeping policy changes that haven’t been vetted affect not only Bridges of American but also impact a great number of programs across the state,” Constantino-Brown says.

At a press conference Thursday, representatives from other reentry programs and non-profits joined Constantino-Brown in calling for a halt to the department’s moves.  The groups say the agency is attempting to take over transition services, and they complain the Department of Corrections lacks the authority to do so without going through the Legislature. 

“They want to take the treatment that is outside of the walls and convert that money to treatment behind the walls with the idea that they can serve more,” Constantino-Brown says.

Jeffrey Wainwright of the Transition House says making that shift will abandon decades of experience with no guarantee of improved results.

“Just being in prison is a whole different environment,” Wainwright says.  “When we bring these guys and girls out of the prisons and bring them into the community they can smell the air, they can hear the local traffic, it’s not being confined behind the razor ribbons.”

“So it works,” he says.  “We have plenty of evidence based to show it really works.”

Former bridges resident Desi Hall is an example.

“I don’t think I’d be able to think the way I did,” Hall says of the Bridges program, “I got out in November and my mindset and the way I think right now today is totally different from the way I went into prison.”

The Department of Corrections declined an interview request, citing pending litigation, pointing instead to a statement issued in September.  In it, the agency defends its actions, claiming new programs will focus on inmates most likely to re-offend, and welcoming Bridges to submit a bid for a new contract in Orlando.