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Dana Young dubious about prisoner program shutdown

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A top House Republican now is questioning the shutdown of a South Florida prisoner re-entry program.

Dana Young, the leader of the Florida House of Representatives’ controlling Republican caucus, wrote a letter to Corrections Secretary Julie Jones on Wednesday.

The letter, released to reporters on Thursday, comes on the tails of the department’s decision to discontinue a Broward County partnership with the Orlando-based Bridges of America nonprofit.

The organization provided “transitional counseling” and drug treatment in Lauderdale Lakes to prisoners on work release who needed help returning to society.

Last week, the Department of Corrections announced it was letting the Broward contract with Bridges of America end on the May 16 expiration date and not renewing it. The department said it needed the program’s space for more DOC employee offices.

“We are troubled by this decision as we understand the Department solicited proposals through a standard procurement process only a few months ago with the intention of finding a provider to run (or to continue running) this very facility as a Work Release and Re-Entry program for our outgoing prison population,” Young wrote.

“The very abrupt change-of-course on the Broward facility seems rushed and not well thought out,” she added. “If indeed such a crisis existed in terms of office space, as your recent public statement suggests, why was the legislature not notified?”

Young went on: “(W)e hope you will agree that a decision as drastic as to close down such a facility is one worth discussing and vetting with key stakeholders before abruptly doing so.”

Jones, in a statement earlier this week, said current enrollees would not be “negatively affect(ed)” and “opportunities will be made available for these individuals to continue in their journey to rehabilitation and successful transition into Florida’s communities.” She did not offer details.

Young, a Tampa Republican now running for a state Senate seat, was unmoved.

“Florida needs more transitional and treatment beds for our inmates, not less,” she said. “Even if the Department is able to find a place in similar programs around the state for the inmates being removed from the Broward program, this move still constitutes a reduction in overall beds ….”

“The decision to shut down a proven reentry facility appears premature and in direct opposition to your stated priorities by effectively choosing office space over direct services that have a proven track record of enhancing public safety and reducing recidivism,” Young added.

McKinley P. Lewis, communications director for the Department of Corrections, said Secretary Jones has not yet received the letter and will comment when she does.

At least four other lawmakers wrote similar letters of concern, with identical language in each: State Reps. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican; Rene “Coach P” Plascencia, an Orlando Republican; Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat; and Vic Torres, another Orlando Democrat.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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