It’s in Arcadia, Florida – on the outskirts of town, past historic buildings and rows of antique stores that tourists often visit.
Despite receiving a state award for cost effectiveness, some national civil liberties groups say the Florida Civil Commitment Center is on their radar because it’s being run under a $272 million contract by a for-profit company – one with a criticized performance record and a purported conflict of incentives.
Records from the state show the facility has been understaffed, with undertrained staff, running the program where most detainees are released before completing the full treatment regimen.
Courts control the releases, state authorities said, adding the company running the facility – Correct Care Recovery Solutions – is under a corrective action plan for staffing issues and is doing a good job overall with a difficult population.
The men held at the Florida Civil Commitment Center have been described as the “worst of the worst.” Up to 720 of them can be held at the facility.
[Florida Civil Commitment Center detainee list here]
We asked for a tour but were told by the Department of Children and Families – which oversees the program and contract with Geo Group and now Correct Care – that they no longer do tours due to “security issues and other concerns.”
Correct Care, which runs the facility, also declined our request to go inside to tour of the facility and would not comment on our questions for this story. The company would only say: “it is our policy not to comment on treatment or patient related matters.”
It is not a prison, but it looks similar to one from the outside and from the sky. The men inside have all been considered so dangerous they weren’t allowed back into society after their prison sentences ended.
So they were committed by the state – involuntarily and indefinitely – at the Florida Civil Commitment Center.
These are all men who were convicted of a sexually violent offense and suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder. They have been referred for the program and are considered likely to commit another violent sex crime. They’re committed through court and a jury.
The Arcadia program is not just the only one of its kind run by a for-profit company in the entire nation – it’s also apparently the largest program of its kind.
With 20 states committing people deemed violent sexual offenders – Florida has the most committed, according to a study from the state of California, which takes second place.
“Florida is the only state whose entire SVP program is being run by a private company,” Shan Jumper, president of the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network, said in an email. “A few other states contract out pieces of their operations (psychological treatment or testing, community release supervision) to private companies.”
UNDERSTAFFED, UNDERTRAINED, UNDERPERFORMING?
Contract oversight reports from DCF point to issues with staffing levels that are too low, and staff that are undertrained.
Here are just some of the deficiencies detailed in recent contract oversight reports from 2013-2014 provided by DCF:
– 8 of 27 employee records reviewed from the full 298 employees at the facility did not have documentation that they’d completed all the courses required for annual in-service training.
That was an improvement, though, from the 2012-2013 report showing 26 of 27 employee records reviewed did not have documentation of all courses required for annual in-service training.
– The basic orientation training required for the employees prior to providing direct services did not include abuse reporting.
– Job vacancies included:
*An executive office employee from January through May
*2 business support employees from January through March of 2014
*30 treatment mental health employees vacant in March, then 27 in April and 25 in May
*3 security supervisors vacant from January through May 2014
*9 security officers vacant in January, down to 8 in February; 4 in March; 3 in April and 2 in May
Correct Care is involved in corrective action plans with DCF addressing these deficiencies.
One of the Corrective Action Plans notes: “The facility has developed a robust recruitment and retention program including the hiring of a corporate healthcare recruiter to fill vacancies. The facility HR department is working with department managers to schedule interviews and hire the most qualified candidates to serve our resident population.”
Florida’s Director of the Sexually Violent Predator Program, former prosecutor Kristin Kanner, says the company is spending more on staffing now than in the past. “We’re going forward and they have made moves to amend the contract… The staffing is in the residents’ favor for more treatment and more treatment programs.”
The state’s contract with Geo Care was amended for a name change to Correct Care.
The contract was also amended so that Correct Care no longer needs to submit all policies it develops to the Florida DCF for approval.
Bob Libal is the executive director of Grassroots Leadership in Austin Texas, which is a non-profit fighting to end for-profit incarceration – claiming no one should profit by the imprisonment of human beings.
He described Correct Care as a spin-off of GEO, which he notes is “deeply embedded in Florida.”
Overall, Libal says there “appears to be a conflict of incentives” at play and the center is on the radar of his organization and others like it.
Geo has also made headlines elsewhere recently for misspending millions in a troubled prison it runs, according to an April report on a Department of Justice audit.
The Virginia ACLU called privatizing civil commitment of sex offendersunwise.
“Unlike state-run facilities, the bottom line for for-profit prisons is to make money, and the best way to do that is to cut costs,” according to a release from the Virginia ACLU. “Studies show that private facilities, for example, have higher staff turnover, less experienced staff, and often fewer staff than state facilities.”
The Florida ACLU did not respond to our requests for comment.
Kanner says the predominate goal is offender treatment and rehab at Florida Civil Commitment Center. “I don’t think there is a conflict of interest,” she said.
The Florida Civil Commitment Center recently made headlines when a man being held there was sent back to prison for 100 years after he was found with numerous images of child pornography on a flash drive and an MP3 player.
No one from Correct Care would tell us exactly how this happened. Kanner said she has not asked specifically about how it happened but it is not surprising to her that it did.
“This is not a glaring problem at the center,” said Kanner. “I don’t think anything having to do with their staffing had anything to do with it.”
There was also an escape from the Arcadia center in 2008. No one ever said how Bruce A. Young got out – but he was ultimately captured within a week.
From 2004 to 2009, DCF was sued in a federal class action lawsuit alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the facility. The suit was settled and dismissed in 2009 because the conditions and treatment opportunities improved.
ONLY FOR-PROFIT CONTRACTS
The state has paid GEO Group – which changed its name on the contract with the Florida Department of Children and Families last August to Geo Care and is now named Correct Care – $68.8 million to run the facility. The total contract, executed in 2006, is for more than $272 million set to expire in 2019.
Even though the nation’s other states that commit violent sexual predators don’t entirely involve for-profit companies to run their programs, Florida’s governor has been a proponent of the private company running the facility in Arcadia, citing cost savings.
Meanwhile, GEO has made millions off the Arcadia facility.
The company increased revenues between 2006 and 2007 by $14.2 million just from the Florida Civil Commitment Center, according to the company’s 2008 annual report.
A few years later, in 2012, Gov. Rick Scott endowed GEO Group with the State of Florida Governor’s Savings Award – for its “commitment to fiscal responsibility by implementing bold and innovative cost-saving business practices while increasing the effectiveness of state government operations.”
Gov. Scott’s office declined to specify what exactly the bold and innovative cost-saving business practices were – and how GEO increased the effectiveness of government operations.
A spokesperson for Scott’s office would only say in June that award is no longer being given and declined to say why.
Indeed, the daily cost for one person at the Florida Civil Commitment Center is less than other similar programs throughout the country.
“I don’t think the state could do any better job than they’re doing,” said Kanner.
Under a contract, the state pays a daily rate of $102.28 to Correct Care for up to 680 residents – that’s in addition to $18,333 per month for additional clinical therapists.
The daily rate can fluctuate, though based on how many people are being held. If there are more than 680 people, the daily rate dwindles to $69.90.
If there are less than 650 residents, the daily rate goes back up to $102.28 – which has been the case for the 2014-2015 fiscal year through March of 2015.
The State of Washington was the first to civilly commit violent sexual predators and has never considered privatization. Officials there say the state spends between $335 and $1,057 per day on its civilly committed sex offenders at four different facilities – but note their costs are significantly affected by the facility’s location – on an island in Puget Sound accessible only by barge or ferry.
It costs $49.49 per day for an inmate in a Florida prison.
The facility hasn’t always been in Arcadia, but it has always had a private company operating it under contract with DCF.
Moreover, the state has never considered in-sourcing this back to state control and management, nor has a contract audit ever been done, the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System shows.
The program began in the Martin Treatment Center and was mostly run by Liberty Behavioral Health Care. At that time, GEO was still involved – holding sexually violent predator detainees awaiting commitment proceedings in a unit of the South Bay Correctional Facility.
In 2000, a move was made to Arcadia, under the contract with Liberty Behavioral Health. There were reports of lax security that ended in violence, the introduction of contraband and disorder inside. In 2004, inmates moved into the yard and lived there for months until they were forcibly removed by hundreds of officers.
After that, DCF terminated its contract with Liberty and entered into a new one with GEO in 2006.
GEO also got a design-build contract to construct a new facility for the program in Arcadia, which is owned by the state and made GEO millions.
The construction of Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia increased GEO’s revenues by $22.1 million, according to the company’s 2008 annual report.
Correct Care declined to say what its most recent profit margins are. The company also runs three other facilities in Florida. South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Florida City was publicly run until 2005, when it became the first privately-managed forensic mental health facility in the country.
Correct Care has also operated South Florida State Hospital in Pembroke Pines since 1998. It was the first facility of its kind in the nation to be completely privatized.
They also run Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center in Indiantown.
Private company profits aside, close ties between the governor and GEO’s CEO have been scrutinized.
Last July, for example, it was reported that GEO CEO George Zoley was hosting a $10,000 per person fundraiser at his Boca Raton home for Scott’s re-election campaign and the Republican Party of Florida.
People from GEO Group and Correct care are listed on the latest lobbyist directory for the Legislature.
The company’s contract with the state to run the Arcadia facility prohibits the use of contract funds to lobby the Legislature.
Kanner notes she is also a legislative lobbyist along with many people in the state’s capital.
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Kanner said. “I’ve never been present where my program was discussed where Correct Care was lobbying any legislator so I don’t see it as a problem.”
Data on recidivism – or repeat offense after release – was provided by DCF. It shows a rate of recidivism of 8.6-percent for people who completed the treatment and went on to do another sexually motivated crime.
“You could look at 8.6 and say it’s not working – or at 91.4-percent and say it is working,” said Kanner, who believes it is “pretty successful.”
“They do a really good job with the treatment program,” she said.
Meanwhile, Washington’s more expensive program appears to show an impeccable record of success.
“As of April 30, 2015, the SCC has no record of any unconditionally or conditionally released residents who participated in treatment who have committed a sex re-offense,” said Mindy Chambers, spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. “The court has revoked the release of 11 of 74 residents conditionally released to a Less Restrictive Alternative due to violations of release conditions, not re-offense. Most of these individuals eventually returned to the Less Restrictive Alternative after corrective intervention, with a subsequent unconditional release.”
At the Florida Civil Commitment Center, the recidivism rate from this facility for a new sex conviction is not much different than the rate of recidivism from prisons – 3.3 percent for Arcadia’s civil commitment center, compared to 3.8 percent after regular detention release.
The treatment program takes at least six years to complete, though confinement is indefinite unless or until a court lets them out. Every year, the detainees get an annual review on the anniversary of their commitment date.
Most of the men are released by courts before completing the entire treatment regimen.
Of around 820 men released from the program; only about 15-percent completed through the end stage of treatment. At least 1,700 have been committed throughout the course of the program, with dozens also at the facility awaiting the trial to officially commit them there.
Failure to complete treatment is an indicator of recidivism, according to Kanner. “I think that is potentially a problem.”