No Bull, No Fluff, No Smudges
Your news source for
Flagler, Florida and Beyond

Florida Prisons’ 40% Cut in Substance-Abuse and Mental-Health Treatment Draw Criticism

| May 4, 2018

As long as it's not drug rehab. (Florida DOC)

As long as it’s not drug rehab. Julie Jones at a Wakula prison in 2016. (Florida DOC)

As Florida continues to deal with an opioid crisis, state corrections officials are moving ahead on a plan to cut substance-abuse services to make up a shortfall in health-care funding for the prison system.

“We’re in the worst drug epidemic that this country and Florida have ever seen and we’re talking now about reducing programs at the same exact time we’re trying to turn the corner on this epidemic. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association, said Wednesday.

The state Department of Corrections announced the plan Tuesday evening, saying services had to be cut to shift money to the health care program, where there is a $55 million shortfall.

Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said although lawmakers increased health-care funding for the prison system, the department does not have enough money to cover a new contract for medical, dental, mental-health and hospital services in the budget year that begins July 1. The current contract expires at the end of June.

The agency projects it will need an additional $28 million in 2018-2019 to fund the new contract and will have to offset $26.8 million in rising costs for pharmaceuticals.

“In order to secure a health services contractor, fund the increased pharmaceutical budget, and adjust for reductions, we’ve unfortunately had to make some very difficult decisions. At the start of the next fiscal year, we will be reducing some of our current contracts with community providers,” Jones said in a statement.

The reductions will be felt across the state, impacting some 33 community providers that offer substance-abuse services and other programs, ranging from life-skills development to job placement, designed to help prisoners successfully return to society once they have served sentences.

“They are reducing or eliminating contracts that they have with community providers that are providing very valuable, evidence-based and effective programs in order to get to that goal,” Fontaine said.

The cuts include a 40 percent reduction in funding for substance-abuse and mental-health treatment for prisoners returning to their communities, representing a $9.1 million reduction. Another $1.6 million will be cut in transitional housing services.

In the prisons, another $7.6 million in substance-abuse services will be eliminated, and the plan will shift prisoners receiving more intensive “therapeutic” treatment to “more cost-effective” work-release programs, providing another $6 million in savings, according to the plan.

Another $2.3 million will be cut from basic-education re-entry centers, while smaller cuts include $500,000 used to fund chaplains and librarians.

Fontaine said cuts in substance-abuse treatment are particularly troubling.

“Seventy percent of the people in prison have a drug problem, and these are the few critical services we have providing drug treatment and they’re talking about reducing those,” he said.

He also said effective drug treatment can help reduce the rate of prisoners returning to the system, reduce costs and protect communities.

“We’ve seen that over and over again. Research-based drug treatment makes a difference,” Fontaine said.

In an interview Tuesday night with The News Service of Florida, Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the prison system funding crisis had “been festering for years” and that lawmakers failed to adequately respond to the issue.

Brandes said health-care funding shortfalls have to be addressed, but he lamented the impact on the substance-abuse services.

“You can’t have an opioid crisis and cut opioid funding. You can’t just let people out of prison without some type of transition back into society. These are the types of programs that the research shows provide the best outcomes,” he said.

Fontaine, who said he is talking with lawmakers, legislative staff and Gov. Rick Scott’s aides, suggested one way to address the crisis would be to shift some of the state’s reserve funds into the prison budget, although lawmakers have been reluctant to spend down reserves.

“It’s not like we have to take this (budget-cutting) action. There are other actions that can be done. It just takes the political will to do it,” he said.

The privatization of prison health care has been an ongoing problem for the state, with the Department of Corrections going through a series of companies in an attempt to provide the services. Jones is negotiating a new contract with Centurion of Florida LLC, which provides the current services for about 87,000 inmates. The new contract is expected to be a five-year, $2 billion agreement.

–Lloyd Dunkleberger, News Service of Florida

7 Responses for “Florida Prisons’ 40% Cut in Substance-Abuse and Mental-Health Treatment Draw Criticism”

  1. Mark says:

    Is there a drug abuse problem in the jails? Then tighten up the ability to introduce drugs into the jails. Healthcare for jail; water, food and air!

  2. John dolan esq. says:

    State Corrections Dept. Is looking at the future thru their rear view mirrors. Wake up and smell the coffee.

  3. Roll on 2 says:

    The drug problem in our jails and prisons needs to stop! It’s not just the visitors and outside work squads bringing in contraband. Most of it is coming in thru crooked employees and officers! Maybe the DOC will somehow fund more Internal Affairs investigators to stop this to prevent more inmate overdose deaths!

  4. Nancy N. says:

    Mark, statistics showing that 70% of people in jails and prisons have a diagnosable substance abuse problem (it’s not just drugs – it’s also alcohol) doesn’t mean that those people are actively using in prison. It means those people are addicts, even if they are temporarily not actively engaging in their addiction due to being in custody. The vast majority ended up in custody because of their addiction. “Drying out” in custody isn’t a permanent fix. If inmates don’t receive proper substance abuse treatment that teaches them how to cope with their addiction and the things that drive them to it in the real world, they will relapse once they are released and have access to the substance again. Addiction relapse is a prime cause of recidivism in former inmates. Providing substance abuse treatment helps inmates and saves money in the long run (and makes society safer).

  5. Richard says:

    Drugs and substance abuse of the “residences” while in prison is just plain stupid and points out the amount of corruption and collusion allowing that to happen. It is NOT going to change no matter what is done so I totally agree with spending that money in other places where it will have more positive results versus perpetuating the inevitable. In regards to changing the mental health of these abusers perhaps a frontal lobotomy would help.

  6. Robin says:

    If funding has been drastically cut, why then has Stewart Marchman been advertising in the NewsJournal classified section multiple times this past week looking to hire for “all positions”? Are the current employees all jumping ship? Or is Stewart Marchman wasting everyone’s time hiring people who will be laid off shortly after they start?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Stewart Marchman is a joke!! I know no one who has benefited long term from this program. Mental people are cutting funding for a cause of mental health and drug rehab that is so very important. These mental politicians like to have the same people come and go through the revolving door—this is exactly what will happen if these people don’t get the help they need, and we will be the ones to flip the bill.

Leave a Reply

FlaglerLive's forum, as noted in our comment policy, is for debate and conversation that adds light and perspective to articles. Please be courteous, don't attack fellow-commenters or make personal attacks against individuals in stories, and try to stick to the subject. All comments are moderated.

Read FlaglerLive's Comment Policy | Subscribe to the Comment Feed rss flaglerlive comment feed rss

More stories on FlaglerLive

FlaglerLive Email Alerts

Enter your email address to get alerts.


support flaglerlive palm coast flagler county news pierre tristam
fcir florida center for investigative reporting
FlaglerLive is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization | P.O. Box 254263, Palm Coast, FL 32135 | Contact the Editor by email | (386) 586-0257 | Sitemap | Log in