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Inmate centers in Pompano, Bradenton will stay open

Days after an outcry from state legislators, the Department of Corrections has decided to keep open two faith-based work release centers that help inmates get jobs and learn life skills in the months before they rejoin society. As a result, no inmates will be forced to move back into the general prison population.

The centers, in Bradenton and Pompano Beach, are run by a private not-for-profit company, Bridges of America. The prison system decided to save money by closing the centers, but lawmakers angrily criticized the decision at a hearing last Friday.

Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker initiated talks with Bridges CEO Lori Costantino-Brown this week, and they quickly came to an agreement. The deal requires Bridges to eliminate 148 of the 538 beds at the two centers as inmates complete their sentences, which will save an estimated $2 million over the next year.

"It was a miracle," said Costantino-Brown, who described inmates and staff members as "jubilant" when they heard the news Wednesday.

"That's wonderful. That's great news," said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who had been among the loudest critics of the centers' closing.

The shutdown created a brief public relations problem for DOC, because the agency has long touted the effectiveness of re-entry centers as a way to reduce chronic recidivism in the nation's third-largest prison system. "No one's going to be moved out," Tucker said. "We never said these were not good programs." -- Steve Bousquet