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Prison Budget Cuts Mean Closing FL Treatment Facilities

Ending substance-abuse and mental-health services for people on probation or parole won't fill the budget shortfall at the Florida Dept. of Corrections. (Nick Mock/Twenty20)
Ending substance-abuse and mental-health services for people on probation or parole won't fill the budget shortfall at the Florida Dept. of Corrections. (Nick Mock/Twenty20)
May 23, 2018

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. - A facility in Pompano Beach that once housed more than 100 substance-abuse and other treatment beds now stands empty because of budget cuts at the Florida Department of Corrections.

Treatment providers are urging Gov. Rick Scott to dip into state emergency reserves to fill a shortfall of $50 million left by lawmakers, almost $30 million of it for substance-abuse and mental-health treatment. According to advocates for these programs, cutting them could lead to more crime instead of keeping people on probation or parole out of prison and in recovery.

In Broward County alone, said Lori Costantino-Brown, president and chief executive of Bridges of America, her program has gone from having 436 re-entry diversion beds to zero.

"Here we are in the middle of an opioid epidemic. This is the second time that the Legislature left a shortfall that nearly wiped out treatment providers in this state," she said. "Last session, it was DCF (the state Department of Children and Families); this session, it's Corrections."

Scott has blamed the Legislature for the shortfall, and Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said she had to make difficult decisions in order to pay for prison health-care services.

The department will cut its contracts with programs July 1 to help make up for the deficit. Constantino-Brown, who has treatment facilities across the state, said it's not just patients who will be affected. Her staff will face losing their jobs.

"And more frustrating is that it's not just us, it's every provider, so there is nowhere for these people to get services," she said. "If I had been like, you know, 'Hey, there's so-and-so down the street' - there is nobody. We're all getting wiped out."

In addition to cutbacks to substance-abuse and mental-health programs, the department also will cut back on repairs, travel and other operational items. This all comes as Florida officials tout the state's crime rate at a 47-year low.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL