October 19, 2016 – Politico Florida
by Daniel Ducassi
Recently released depositions and state data show the Florida Department of Corrections has made misleading statements, and is using a misleading cost analysis, to justify its plans to eliminate hundreds of what are called “transition” beds for prisoners to receive drug abuse treatment and counseling in community-based facilities ahead of their release.
The move to eliminate the 688 “beds” has sparked an uproar from the nonprofit transition centers that depend on contracts with DOC to provide those services. They held a press conference in Tallahassee last week to decry the changes.
“These sweeping policy changes that haven’t been vetted… impact a number of programs across the state,” said Lori Constantino-Brown, CEO of Bridges of America, a non-profit that contracts with DOC to provide transition and work release services for prisoners. The department is letting a Bridges contract for an Orlando transition center expire at the end of the year as a result of the changes, and has plans to phase out other contracts with those types of services.
Bridges is challenging the department’s decision bid specifications for work release services in Orlando as part of the planned changes. The case is pending.
The DOC says the elimination of those beds in community-based facilities would allow for more drug treatment in the department-run prisons, arguing it all comes out of the same substance abuse treatment budget.
“Today, more than 60 percent of the Department’s substance use disorder budget is dedicated to treating only a small number of individuals,” said DOC secretary Julie Jones. “We know we can do better. We want to provide more services to treat an even greater number of individuals with the same resources.”
They say the “reshaping of services” includes about 800 more work-release beds — and nearly 5,000 more in-prison substance abuse beds. It argues it can treat four times as many prisoners with the same pot of money.
But that “substance use disorder budget” that Jones is referring to, about $27 million, doesn’t actually refer to a particular line or entity in the state budget. It turns out that the money that funds those community-based drug treatment beds and the money that will fund the department’s new contract for substance abuse treatment at state facilities is pulled from different parts of the state budget.
When asked about the fact that the “substance use disorder” budget was sourced from multiple parts of the.state budget, DOC spokeswoman Michelle Glady provided no explanation as to why the DOC claims the money is all under one budget under which money can be moved freely.
“Each line item of the [General Appropriations Act] does not necessarily represent its own individual budget,” she stated, but refused to explain what that meant in the context of funding for drug abuse treatment and transition beds.
In a deposition taken as part of the bid protest by Bridges in the dispute, the department’s budget chief, Mark Tallent, asserted that the money was “almost interchangeable.”
Tallent said the $27 million pot of money referred to as the department’s “substance use disorder budget” actually “comes from several locations.” That pot of money, the department says, funds the community-based beds as well as treatment in state-run prisons, which is funded out of a different line in the state budget.
Tallent insisted that the department need not get legislative approval for the planned changes despite the money coming from different parts of the budget.
“They’re both funded out of contracted services, which allows the Department to really pay any contract it deems out of that category,” he said.
But sources familiar with the state budgeting process say that’s likely not the case.
A source with significant Florida budget experience explained that under state law, agency heads are allowed to move small amounts of money in their budgets under certain circumstances.
Money can be moved “between budget entities within identical categories of appropriations,” so long as the total moved is not more than 5 percent of the original budget or $250,000, whichever is greater. Otherwise, the agency has to seek additional approval from lawmakers.
The department says it’s spending more than $15 million a year on those 688 transition beds, a figure well above five percent of the line in the state budget out of which the beds are funded.
That budget line provides about $28 million for “contracted services” under a budget entity called “public service worksquads and work release transition.”
Meanwhile, the money for the new in-prison drug abuse treatment contract is listed as “contract drug abuse services” under a budget entity called “adult substance abuse prevention, evaluation and treatment services.”
“I would not consider those identical categories of appropriations,” the source said. “They do like to have a good bit of flexibility… but it still needs to be related to the budget entity that it resides.”
Though the budget lines the department would be moving between appear “at least similar in purpose,” a source inside the Florida House stated, “if rubber met the road, they probably don’t have the authority” to transfer the money without approval from lawmakers
“I think the feeling among some in the Legislature would be they don’t have the authority to make the transfer,” the source said. “In order to be safe, they should go through the budget process. Better safe than sorry.”
The source suspects the department may fear that if it brought a request to lawmakers, then the issue “might get political.”
Department staff said implementing the plan will take “years,” as it allows contracts to expire.
But the department has also not requested any changes to those lines of the budget in its 2017-18 legislative budget request.
Even if it does have the authority to move the money, the department’s cost analysis turned out to also be misleading.
A POLITICO Florida analysis of the costs found that, based on DOC data, the estimated cost per inmate per day to the department for drug abuse treatment in state-run prisons would be roughly the same, if not more expensive, than what it is currently paying for prisoners to get drug treatment at a Bridges facility in Orlando, or $52.78.
The average operational cost per inmate per day to the DOC for state-run facilities was $39.78 in fiscal year 2014-15, according to the DOC’s annual report. If one were to add the cost of in-prison substance abuse treatment ($13) plus $3.34 in administrative costs (also listed in the annual report), one would arrive at an estimate of $56.12. That’s about $3 more expensive than what it’s paying Bridges, $52, plus 78 cents in administrative costs, as listed in the annual report.
The DOC disputes this estimate, asserting that “the contracted rate of $13 per day can not be added to the per diem,” despite that rate being the cost of in-prison substance abuse treatment for each prisoner per day.
Instead, the DOC adds $1.26, the average cost for education per inmate per day, arguing that reflects the cost of substance abuse treatment spread across the entire system.
But that number doesn’t reflect the cost per inmate for in-prison substance abuse treatment, and results in a misleadingly low estimate for what it each inmate undergoing substance abuse treatment costs the DOC on the whole.
According to an internal DOC document that lays out the rationale behind the new plans, the average cost of in-prison intensive outpatient drug treatment for more than 1,500 prisoners is about $13 per day. That cost matches up with the department’s claim that it can fund four times as many beds in prison at the rate it’s paying for community-based beds. [READ MORE]