Sub-par hotels, apartments ticketed for work-release inmates
By Sherri C. Ranta
Correction officials are outsourcing 600 new work-release spaces throughout the state, including 250 in South Florida.
Meanwhile, real estate firm CB Richard Ellis is representing a client looking to buy a Miami-Dade County motel or vacant apartment complex for the same purpose. Officials at the real estate company declined further comment.
The state's expansion of work release facilities will not replace existing beds in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties, but serve an expanding number of inmates entering the programs, said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson.
State officials are specifically looking to address needs in Broward and Palm Beach counties, she said, but could award contracts in Miami-Dade County if enough beds are not found in the other counties.
Vendors looking to do business with the state, according to the request for proposals, must provide "for the provision and operation of residential work release centers to include the facility, staff, supervision and related transitional services."
The facilities could be in abandoned or under-performing hotels, motels or apartment complexes. The state wants the beds in use in 2006.
"While we've had private vendors in the past," Ms. Rackleff said, "this is the largest number of beds we're seeking to put under the management of private industry."
In addition to secured housing and three meals a day, the request states, vendors must provide inmates with programs that will help them reenter society - such as employment development, placement and retention programs.
The state, Ms. Rackleff said, will offer providers a maximum of $19.36 per occupied bed daily - about $8 less than the $27.35 daily average the state pays for its work release beds.
Vendors, she said, can then make up the difference and more by taking up to 45% of an inmate's salary as a subsistence fee to cover costs up to $47.36 per bed per day - the average operating cost for all Florida Department of Corrections beds.
"If the vendor makes money," she said, "the vendor is motivated, the taxpayer saves money and everyone benefits."
About 2,100 work-release beds exist statewide. Six state work-release facilities are in Florida Department of Corrections Region Four, an area that includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
State officials forecast the need for more beds as Florida adds inmates and those eligible for work release increase, Ms. Rackleff said. The prison population is expected to exceed 79,000 by the end of August, according to state figures, with total releases of 27,500 throughout the year.
US Bureau of Prisons spokesman Dan Dunne said federal work release facilities - known as "half-way houses" - have been privatized for many years. About 6,800 beds are located in federal Community Correction Centers throughout the US.
As the inmate population expanded, he said, it was more efficient to have private providers such as private business and non-profits such as Salvation Army provide the service.
About 107 federal prisons hold 179,000 inmates, he said. In 1980, 41 prisons held 25,000 federal inmates.