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Rep. Dana Young blasts Corrections for closing Broward prison program as 'rushed and not well thought out'

State Rep. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, is scolding the Florida Department of Corrections for "the very abrupt change-of-course" when it decided last week to close an inmate transition center in Pompano Beach and wants the decision delayed or reversed.

"The very abrupt change-of-course on the Broward facility seems rushed and not well thought out,'' Young said in a letter to Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones. She chided the decision for reducing the overall number of transition beds, rejected Jones' promise that the inmates will be accommodated in other parts of the state and suggested it was an about-face from the commitment Jones has made to legislators when she was confirmed by the Senate earlier this year.

"The idea that you would cease a successful re-entry program to make way for offices that can easily be accommodated elsewhere is untenable,'' Young concluded.

Jones said in a statement this week that the agency needed to close the Bridges of America work release and re-entry program to make room for a moving their probation office from Lauderdale Lakes to the Pompano facility. Jones vowed that “no action taken by this Department will negatively affect the future of the inmates currently incarcerated at Broward Bridge."

The decision came after the agency issued requests for proposals for private operators to run the program to help inmates transition back into the community at the Pompano facility in March. The Bridges lease is up on May 16 and when the FDC called for rates  to be reduced from $56 a day to $52 a day, Bridges of America was the only one to respond. 

But Young said lawmakers are "troubled" by the decision and believe the re-entry and work release transition programs are "our best chance to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety is to release rehabilitated, treated, and well-prepared inmates back into our communities following their sentences."

"If indeed such a crisis existed in terms of office space, as your recent public statement suggests, why was the legislature not notified?,'' Young asked.

She even suggested Jones has options. "If, as you contend, the Department needs more office space, I would encourage you to seek appropriate space to lease. In the alternative, portable office units or the like may be an option until such time as you can find suitable space,'' she wrote.

Young also took Jones to task for changing her story, urged her to keep the program open "or, at a minimum, to delay such a move so that it can be properly vetted with stakeholders and the Legislature" and asked her to "provide your rationale for this decision." 

"In comments before the Senate in recent confirmation hearings and in other public venues you stressed the importance of reentry, work release, and transitional services as part of the Department 'embracing a new methodology that focuses on rehabilitation' with the goal of 'reducing the prison population,' '' Young wrote.

"Additionally, last November you announced a pilot program focused on data compilation and better understanding the needs/diagnoses of inmates at time of entry and reentry that began in March of this year. The decision to shut down a proven reentry facility appears premature and in direct opposition to your stated priorities by effectively choosing office space over direct services that have a proven track record of enhancing public safety and reducing recidivism. Here's her letter:  Download Dana Young Letter to FDOC