The Florida Department of Corrections came under fire earlier this week when Bridges of America, who partner with them to help inmates rehabilitate into the world, accused them of trying to shut down their off-site transition center on Mercy Drive.

But according to the FDOC, the Bridges of America’s alarm, while rooted in good intent, is misguided. FDOC Communications Director Michelle Glady said the explanation was simple: Bridges of America’s contract with them expired, as contracts do, and the FDOC put out a request for proposals (RFP) to get a new contractor to help with their inmate transition programs.

The problem was, Bridges of America didn’t like some of the changes in the new proposal, which reflect the FDOC’s new priorities with the program.

“They’re welcome to bid on the proposal,” Glady said. “If they did, it may change things for them. That would be the decision they have to make. They’re a business. They’re currently protesting it — that has to be resolved before we move forward with this process.”

She said they were absolutely not trying to shut anything down or put prisoners on the streets, however, even though the new model wouldn’t involve the transition beds Bridges of America utilizes.

“It’s not a radically different model or a big cost saving,” she said. “We don’t want to shut anyone down, that’s a total misconception. The RFP just looks different than the current contract Bridges has.”

FDOC Press Secretary Alberto Moscoso says under the FDOC’s new program, things will apparently improve. Right now, they pay 60 percent of their substance abuse treatment dollars on the least-likely, and smallest, population to return to prison. That’s $15.5 million for approximately 688 beds, he wrote.

But they spend only $10.9 million for 2,500 in-prison treatment beds, which also has a much higher rate of completion for a quarter of the cost, he wrote.

“FDC can treat four times as many individuals for the same amount of money,” Moscoso said.

The new program they’re looking to start would allow inmates to complete a program involving substance abuse treatment, if necessary, and vocational or academic training. Then they’d be transferred to a paid employment bed in the community.

In addition, the new program would also increase paid employment beds and allow inmates to keep more of their earned money from work-release programs — the new program would allow them to keep 70 percent of their earned wages, while Bridges of America’s program only allows 55 percent.

In addition, Moscoso addressed one of the most pertinent criticisms of the proposed change — the assertion of many community leaders that the FDOC wanted to end the transition center program and put inmates back in work programs inside the prison walls. This, he wrote, was inaccurate.

“No one in the current Orlando Bridge program will be sent ‘back’ to prison,” Moscoso wrote. “All individuals currently serving their sentence in community transition beds will remain in community programs.”

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