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Judge finds for Corrections in drug-treatment vendor dispute

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An administrative law judge is recommending dismissing a challenge to the Department of Corrections seeking outside substance-abuse treatment and other transitioning-back-into-society services in Orange County.

Bridges of America, the Orlando-based nonprofit that runs the program, has for months been waging a legal and PR battle to keep its facility open, and another in Broward County. The Broward battle ended in a settlement. 

Corrections has been letting its agreements with vendors expire as part of a larger plan to reduce services “outside the walls.” The department previously announced a new program called Spectrum, which will offer many of the same services Bridges provides, but inside the state’s prisons.

Judge Lisa Shearer Nelson last week found that the department’s invitation for bids was “not contrary to competition, arbitrary or capricious, and (does) not contravene the Department’s governing statutes, the agency’s rules or policies.”

“The successful vendor under the (request for proposal), should there be one, would still be providing a community release center,” she wrote.

The order went back to the department, which is expected to adopt its findings.

“The department is looking forward to continuing to work with Bridges of America to provide services to inmates and offenders in an effective and efficient manner,” Michelle Glady, FDOC spokewoman, said in a statement.

Lori Costantino-Brown, CEO of Bridges of America, said she was disappointed with the decision, but added “this was just one way we are trying to protect the men and women we serve.”

“We still have a lot of facts and fight left,” she said in an email. “The good news is that the judge agreed with us that the Department has yet to prove any cost savings.

“Ultimately, we believe the Department will have to answer to the lawmakers that fund them and support more, not less, community-based treatment facilities,” she said. “The department knows, by their own data, that facilities like ours work best to reduce recidivism, provide local jobs for citizens and transitioning prisoners, and keep families together.”

A separate administrative protest by Bridges over the department’s proposed contract to provide “In-Prison Substance Abuse Treatment Services” is still pending, dockets show.

In that case, Bridges argues “not only is this more costly to the state, it is also contrary to statutory requirements that mandate reducing the use of larger prison institutions and increasing the use of community correctional centers whenever feasible.”

In a footnote, the organization explains that “Bridges currently receives … $52.78 (per day) for each Substance Abuse Transition bed occupied by a State of Florida inmate while the cost for DOC to house the same inmate in prison and provide outpatient substance abuse treatment is approximately $62.83 per day.”

“Thus, there is no rational explanation for DOC’s attempted removal of this inmate population from community-based correctional centers,” the filing says.

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 [email protected]

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