Florida Looks to Expand Re-Entry Program With Federal Grants

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Corrections was recently awarded a $750,000 federal grant to improve its offender re-entry program.

The funds for the Federal Second Chance Act program, which were conferred jointly to the DOC, the City of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, will be used to boost the state’s growing re-entry program that aims to reduce recidivism by targets felony offenders returning back to society.

The DOC has made re-entry a top initiative, with academic and vocational education, treatment programs and job preparation skills. The effort will reduce long-term costs through reduced recidivism rates and a small statewide inmate population, according to officials.

In August, the DOC dedicated the Baker Correctional Institution in Sanderson, Fla., its second re-entry facility. The department is using Baker CI’s working partnership with the City of Jacksonville and other Duval County entities as a state model for re-entry.

Federal Second Chance Act funds will be used to establish more substance abuse, vocational and academic programs at the facility. Florida was one of only 11 states to receive the federal grant.

“We literally can not afford to meet the continuing growth of our inmate population,” says Pam Denmark, Florida’s deputy assistant secretary of re-entry. “It has forced us to look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing things and if we can do them smarter.”

With the third largest state prison system in the country, Florida had close to 101,000 inmates in October. The state spends approximately $20,000 a year per inmate.

The DOC estimates that close to 33 percent of all released inmates return to prison for a new offense or violation 36 months after their release. Approximately 43 percent of those admitted to prison have been there before.

“We believe it’s not just our responsibility to house and monitor inmates,” Denmark says. “We believe it’s our responsibility, within our existing resources, to help them return to society successfully.”

At the 1,400-bed Baker Correctional Institution, and at the state’s very first re-entry facility, the Demilly Correctional Institution in Polk City, inmates are provided with a number of educational and support programs in preparation for returning to society.

GED classes and vocational programs, including masonry, cabinetmaking, electricity – and welding at Baker – are offered. Other re-entry programs include anger management and substance-abuse therapy, and transitional skills courses including budgeting and job interview preparation.

From Baker, inmates are all released into Duval County through a central portal, the Jacksonville Re-entry Center, operated by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. The Jacksonville center provides felony registration, case management and assistance in finding transitional housing, healthcare, transportation, pre-employment training and employment, among other services.

The center currently provides services to over 3,000 ex-offenders and case management to 500 ex-offenders.

In addition, Baker hosts job fairs to help inmates find work before re-entry. The DOC is partnering with local businesses, including the Jacksonville shipyard, to determine what jobs are available.

“We believe that these programs make the public safer,” Denmark says. “If the inmate is equipped with basic skills and treatment, he or she will go back into the community contributing to it instead of creating more victims.”

A re-entry advisory council, made up of statewide members from the judicial system, law enforcement, religion and other backgrounds, is tasked with developing a five-year strategic plan for the re-entry program and providing guidance.

The DOC has long-range plans to open four more re-entry facilities, Denmark says.