JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A new facility that looks like a high school and apartment complex combined awaits Florida inmates just released from the state’s prison system. Opened on Feb. 12, the five-building, 344-bed Jacksonville Bridge complex features a transition center, work release facility and residential substance-abuse treatment program.
The Jacksonville Bridge is run by Bridges of America, an Orlando-based nonprofit that offers transition facilities, work release centers and/or substance abuse treatment programs. The Jacksonville facility is the newest of seven run by the program, which has served about 10,000 inmates.
“Research shows time and time again that an inmate who has the opportunity to participate in re‐entry programs that provide educational, vocational and substance abuse counseling are more likely to return to society and not commit another crime,” said Michael D. Crews, secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections, in a statement. “Partners like Bridges of America play an important role in helping keep Floridians safe.”
The work release program at the new facility, which already supports 140 inmates, allows those who are nearing release to leave the facility and work in the community. Men in the program are employed during the day and work on substance abuse treatment, education and vocation courses at night. Work release inmates are required to pay for room and board, which saves taxpayers money. Inmates also make court-ordered payments, send money home for family support and are required to set money aside for savings upon their release.
Another 165 inmates are housed in the transition center and participate in training programs that provide them with skills and certifications to eventually seek and obtain employment. The peer-led program also helps inmates with recovery, life skills, education and job training. In residential substance abuse treatment, about 39 inmates participate in a six- to eight-month program that provides assistance to adult male felony drug offenders who have been sentenced by the local courts as a deterrent to incarceration and a condition of probation.
Jacksonville had a Bridges work release facility eight years ago, but organizers wanted a bigger residential transition and work release program with substance abuse help. The land was bought in 2011, and the $5 million facility began accepting inmates in December 2012. It has 80 staff members and room for up to 400 male inmates, who spend an average of six to 12 months here.
“The Jacksonville Bridge is an answer to a prayer for the men who arrive here, and we’re proud to bring this important transitional opportunity to Jacksonville,” said Lori Costantino-Brown, president and CEO of Bridges of America, in a statement. “We know that the education, counseling, treatment and vocational skills inmates and clients receive gives them a chance to turn their lives around. Our partners with the city of Jacksonville and across Duval County have been tremendously supportive of our growth and our efforts to help the men here prepare for their release.”