In making its case to end third-party nonprofit drug abuse treatment and counseling for soon-to-be-released prisoners, the Florida Department of Corrections relied on false cost analysis and misleading statements.

Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida reports on newly released documents showing plans to cut nearly 700 so-called “transition” beds for prisoners in community-based facilities leading up to their release. The move sparked an uproar from nonprofit transition centers with DOC contracts to offer those services.

“These sweeping policy changes that haven’t been vetted … impact a number of programs across the state,” said Bridges of America CEO Lori Constantino-Brown in a news conference this week. The DEO, which has contracted with Bridges of America for an Orlando transition center, is letting the agreement expire at the end of the year, as part of a larger plan to phase out similar contracts.

Bridges has filed a challenge to the DEO decision on work release services in Orlando in the context of the proposed changes. The case is pending.

The DOC says elimination of transition programs is a budgetary concern, explaining that cuts would make room for additional drug treatment through department-run prisons.

“Today, more than 60 percent of the department’s substance use disorder budget is dedicated to treating only a small number of individuals,” DOC Secretary Julie Jones told POLITICO. “We know we can do better. We want to provide more services to treat an even greater number of individuals with the same resources.”

“Reshaping of services,” according to the DOC, could result in around 800 more work-release beds — as well as almost 5,000 additional in-prison substance abuse beds. That means four times as many prisoners could be treated for the same cost.

However, Ducassi notes that “substance use disorder budget” — around $27 million — isn’t associated with a particular line item in the state budget. The money now funding community-based drug treatment beds will be used for the department’s new contract for substance abuse treatment at state facilities, which currently comes from other sources in the state budget.

“When asked about the fact that the ‘substance use disorder’ budget was sourced from multiple parts of the state budget,” Ducassi writes, “DOC spokeswoman Michelle Glady provided no explanation as to why the DOC claims the money is all under one budget under which money can be moved freely.”

“Each line item of the [General Appropriations Act] does not necessarily represent its own individual budget,” Glady said, not explaining how that would relate to funding drug abuse treatment or transition beds.

As a part of the bid protest by Bridges, DOC budget chief Mark Tallent testified the money was “almost interchangeable.” In Tallent’s deposition, he said the $27 million pool — called the “substance use disorder budget” comes from “several locations.”

The department insists that pot of money will fund both community-based beds and treatment through state-run prisons, despite being supported by a different line item in the state budget.

Tallent also said the department does not need legislative approval for the planned changes, even as the money is taken from different parts of the budget.

“They’re both funded out of contracted services,” he said, “which allows the department to really pay any contract it deems out of that category.”

Ducassi writes that some close to the state budgeting process believe that probably will not happen.

Under state law, agency heads can move small amounts of money in their budgets, but only under certain circumstances.

For example, POLITICO notes that “between budget entities within identical categories of appropriations,” as long as the total is not more than 5 percent of the original budget or $250,000, whichever is greater. Beyond that, the agency needs legislative approval.

By the department’s own admission, it spends more than $15 million a year on 688 transition beds, which is considerably more than five percent of that line in the state budget set aside for the beds. The line item in the budget for “contracted services” is around $28 million, listed as “public service work squads and work release transition.”

At the same time, funding for in-prison drug abuse treatment contracts — “contract drug abuse services” — is part of an entity described as “adult substance abuse prevention, evaluation and treatment services.”

“I would not consider those identical categories of appropriations,” the source told POLITICO. “They do like to have a good bit of flexibility … but it still needs to be related to the budget entity that it resides.”

 

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