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Local Government Manatee BOCC Workshop Struggles to Save "Bridges


BRADENTON -- Last Friday, local leaders united to decry the Florida Department of Corrections announcement to close two highly successful inmate re-entry programs. Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino spoke to the group pleading that, "closing 'The Bradenton Bridges' is wrong."Commissioner DiSabatino wasn't alone. At Tuesday's special workshop, Manatee County Commissioners searched for other options.

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) has plans to close two inmate re-entry programs amid heavy opposition. The "Bradenton Bridges" and the "Broward County Bridges" inmate re-entry programs are the ones targeted by the FDC and some legislators for elimination. According to The FDC website, sending the 332 inmates currently in the program back to prison will cost the state's taxpayers over a  million additional dollars. So why wouldn't this budget-crunching Governor pull out his line-item-veto pen with pride, and save the programs?  

In Florida, there are up to 40,000 inmates released back into society every year on the day their sentence is up. A bus ticket, a $50 bill and the clothes on their back is what they leave with. Those suffering from drug problems, psychological impairments and/or just have nowhere to go are expected to get their act together. Trouble is, most have little help to make that a reality. Statistics show that without help, many more will be back on the state's dime than those who participate in re-entry programs like Bridges.

At the BOCC workshop, Karen Windom from Manatee County Natural Resources said, "I think we have seen the successes of this program." She later added, "It doesn't serve anyone well to stop this program and put those in it back in jail."

Commissioner DiSabatino was in Washington D.C., but attended the meeting via the internet. She said, "We are behind the eight ball. So, focus is on the Governor and the line-item-veto." 

Commissioners felt there was little they could do other that make calls to Tallahassee and wait to see what Governor Scott will do. Commissioner Carol Whitmore said , "We need to have a Plan B." Commissioner Bustle then suggested, "We shouldn't let it compete with other services," adding, "not only is the program cheaper, it keeps from having to expand."

Not closing the two facilities will protect 70 private sector jobs, save the state over one million dollars a year in revenue, reduce the recidivism rate, create safer communities, have fewer victims and help to put hundreds of new productive taxpaying workers back into the communities. 

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said, "It is essential that the Bridges Transition of Bradenton facility remain open. Not only does the program provide invaluable life-skills benefits to the participants, the presence of Bridges has a measurable and positive impact on Bradenton."

Many feel that if the Governor ignores all of the beneficial factors in keeping the two facilities open, it will just be another ploy to push his "prison privatization" agenda. Private prisons have no incentive to rehabilitate those incarcerated, because return customers translate into more profits.

If the Governor does cancel funding for the two facilities, those supporting Bridges will have until March 31 to secure funding, and that would most likely have to come from a federal grant. 

For those who wish to support the Bridges program, they can contact FDC Secretary Ken Tucker and Governor Rick Scott, and let them know that communities have a right to make their neighborhoods safer. 


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