HOW FLORIDA TREATS DRUG OFFENDERS
There Will Be Less Space In Treatment Programs
Participants May Have To Pay More
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS -- State drug treatment programs aimed at keeping addicts out of prison must reduce their beds by nearly a third because
of the Florida budget crisis.
In addition, criminal defendants already in such programs may have to
pay nearly twice as much of their own money to stay.
Word of those dramatic cuts and others came Monday at a meeting between
the Florida Department of Corrections, which funds most treatment programs, and nonprofit treatment providers.
"We were all hoping this day wouldn't come," said Richard Nimer, the DOC's director of drug service programs. "We have no choice. We've got
to get it done . . . we have no money."
The cuts, which hit more than 30 programs across Florida, will be particularly devastating for drug courts, including those in Pinellas,
Hillsborough and Citrus counties.
Drug court judges frequently send defendants to treatment in residential programs as an alternative to jail or prison.
The DOC also cut funding to numerous outpatient programs, telling providers that as of Feb. 1 defendants will have to pay the full cost
of these programs.
Typically, the outpatient fee is $20 to $25 per week for group therapy
sessions. The DOC had been picking up this cost or a portion of it for indigent defendants. The DOC will continue to fund outpatient costs for
those already in programs.
"We're just going to have to tighten our belts," said Gail Holly, supervisor for adult drug courts in Hillsborough. "We're going to make
it, but our treatment providers are definitely going to have to juggle resources."
Nimer said the DOC must cut about $5.6-million in its current $24.5-million budget for drug treatment and outpatient care. The cuts
are more severe because they come halfway through the fiscal year, magnifying the effects.
But Nimer said he hopes the cuts were temporary. He said Gov. Jeb Bush
is supportive of the drug programs.
Nimer expects funding levels to be restored in the next fiscal budget
year, beginning July 1.
"You are all barely making it as it is," Nimer told service providers.
"I'm not thrilled by these cuts . . . let's be frank. If we don't get money restored (July 1), we're going to have to make some changes next
In all, treatment providers must cut 32 percent of their beds by Feb.
1, a statewide loss of about 612 beds.
In the Tampa Bay area, one of the hardest-hit providers will be Operation PAR, which loses funding for 62 beds, mostly for drug
abusers, in Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee counties.
"This hurts," said Nancy Hamilton, PAR's chief operating officer. "I think that there is no question there will be some people who will not
be able to get treatment. Anyone who says differently is not facing reality."
The DOC also cut by 10 percent the per-day cost it pays for each defendant in a residential program. Nimer recommended that providers
pass the cost on to defendants in programs. Currently, defendants with jobs pay $8 per day for services. Nimer said providers should raise
that to $15.
Some providers said defendants couldn't afford the extra cost.
"A lot of our clients are only making minimum wage," said Nick Trunzo,
director of residential services at Spectrum, a program in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Nimer blamed the problem on economic decline and suggested that some programs might want to consider releasing some drug addicts early if
they are making good progress.
"We've looked at umpteen options on how to do this." he said "There's
just no wiggle room."
The hit to Pinellas is softened somewhat because a 75-bed facility operated by Bridges of America won't be affected by these cuts, Nimer
said. The Bridges facility in St. Petersburg is supported by federal monies and other revenue sources not affected by the budget shortfall,he said.
Other Bridges programs around Florida were not as lucky. "These cuts are deeper than we thought they were going to be," said
John McMahon, residential programs coordinator with Salvation Army Correctional Services, which has 157 beds in Jacksonville, Fort Myers
"We're going to have to lay people off and cut back services," he said.
"This is going to have a dramatic effect across Florida.
Many fear that more defendants will end up in prison if they don't get
treatment, something that ends up costing the state more money than residential treatment.
"We're just going to have to suck it up and get through these difficult
times," Nimer said.
Pubdate: Tue, 15 Jan 2002
Source: St Petersburg Times(FL)
Author: William R. Levesque