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‘No evidence’ GEO Group behind prisoner rehab grab

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The head of a nonprofit that runs prisoner re-entry programs in the state said she had “no evidence” her group and others were being muscled out by private prison operator The GEO Group.

But, Lori Costantino-Brown quickly added, there’s been a “lot of speculation” that the company has somehow been involved.

Costantino-Brown, president and CEO of Orlando-based Bridges of America, held a press conference Thursday in Tallahassee with other care providers.

The Department of Corrections has been targeting Bridges in particular as it winds up outside transitional programs for the state’s inmates and probationers. Bridges’ Orlando facility is the latest on the hit list.

Costantino-Brown couldn’t say what was motivating the shutdowns other than a push to consolidate the state’s re-entry programs inside prisons themselves, or “behind the walls,” in the advocates’ lingo.

Then, Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas mentioned she had “spent some time reading the GEO Group’s annual report.” That company, based in Boca Raton, manages the federal government’s 700-bed Broward Transitional Center, for example.

“And one of the things in there is that it indicates it wants to get more into re-entry and transition programs,” Klas said. “Do you have any reason to believe that this is part of what is motivating the (Rick Scott) administration?”

“I have no evidence of that,” Costantino-Brown said. “Certainly, there has been a lot of speculation about their involvement.”

Indeed, the company’s 2015 Annual Report says it has “furthered our commitment to be the world’s leading provider of offender rehabilitation and community re-entry programs, … investing more than $5 million annually to expand our ‘GEO Continuum of Care’ platform.”

In the current state budget, records show $330,000 was set aside for “operation of the GEO Continuum of Care rehabilitation and re-entry program at Blackwater River Correctional Facility,” the company’s men’s prison in Milton.

“We have begun the implementation of ‘GEO Continuum of Care’ programs at more than a dozen correctional facilities around the country in partnership with our state and federal customers,” the annual report says.

“These programs will integrate intensive in-prison rehabilitation with post-release services for inmates completing industry-leading, evidence-based programming in GEO facilities and are aimed at reducing recidivism and helping the men and women in our care successfully re-enter the community.”

The company has invested big in campaign contributions across the country over the years, according to campaign finance records. That includes $3 million to the Republican Party of Florida and $200,000 to Scott’s political committee, “Let’s Get to Work.”

And earlier in the press conference, Costantino-Brown said Corrections had recently put out a bid “to bring all (treatment and rehab) in-house in one massive in-prison contract.”

A request for comment sent to the Governor’s Office was referred to a Corrections spokeswoman, who responded here. As of Thursday afternoon, The GEO Group had not responded to a similar request.

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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