A statewide association that advocates for drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs is calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the state Legislature to restore nearly $30 million in proposed budget cuts to the Department of Corrections’ substance abuse treatment programs and re-entry services for state prisoners.
In a letter to Scott, the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association’s (FADAA) Executive Director Mark Fontaine writes “we are all running out of time to prevent cuts to vital programs.”
Earlier this month, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones submitted a budget request totaling $29.6 million in spending cuts for the agency in order to have enough money to fund health care for state inmates. That money was supposed to have been used to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment and transition services to inmates at the end of their sentences.
FADAA had sent a previous letter to Scott a couple of weeks ago expressing its concerns regarding the proposed cuts.
“We have yet to hear from your office,” Fontaine wrote to Scott on Monday. “You have supported substance abuse services and taken a leadership role in addressing the opioid epidemic in our state—now is not the time to take a step back.”
DOC says it simply doesn’t have enough cash to pay for renewing its prison healthcare contract, which expires June 30, and providing the treatment programs.
In Monday’s letter, FADAA urges Scott to use the powers of his office that allow him to dip into the state’s emergency reserves to prevent the cuts from occurring.
“Governor, you have the ability to exercise your executive authority to address this problem through a one-time appropriation from the state’s reserve funds, giving the Florida Legislature the time they need to address this issue during the next legislative,” Fontaine wrote. “While we recognize the state’s responsibility to provide healthcare for inmates, we cannot overook that substance abuse treatment is healthcare.”
Since sending FADAA’s initial letter of concern, Fontaine says a number of community providers have either shut down or are in the process of closing their services. He says the closings have left more than 500 Floridians out of work and will leave hundreds of inmates and probationers “without the only lifeline they have to get their lives back on track.”
“Without treatment, inmates and probationers are at higher risk to commit crimes and use drugs, undoing the progress Florida has made over the last 15 years in reducing recidivism rates and lowering the prison population,” Fontaine writes. “While these cuts may look like a quick fix to a current budget shortfall, in reality they will only exacerbate the problem, forcing the DOC to spend more on inmates coming back into the system.”
A spokesman for the governor says the responsibility of appropriating money is that of the Legislature and says Scott has proposed increases in spending for DOC of $169 million for this year.
“Governor Scott has recommended hundreds of millions of dollars in increases for FDC, including recommending increases of more than $169 million this year – which would have funded programming and health services,” said McKinley Lewis, Scott’s deputy communications director. ”While Governor Scott has recommended more than $378 million in increases for FDC over the past three years, it is the (Legislature), not the Governor, that writes the budget and appropriates funds.
“Secretary Jones is working tirelessly to mitigate the impacts of these cuts while ensuring that Department can continue in its constitutional responsibility to provide healthcare to inmates,” Lewis added.
FADAA has also sent letters Monday to state legislative leaders urging them to address the budget issue before the May 25 deadline for the cuts.