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DOC puts contract for probation behavioral health services out for bid

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Department of Correction is seeking a behavioral health assessment and treatment provider for thousands of Delawareans on probation.

Delaware’s probation and parole population has fallen in recent years, with 2,500 more people leaving supervision than entering it in 2021. But Bureau of Community Corrections Deputy Chief Heidi Collier says the pandemic increased the intensity of behavioral health support needs of that population, which raises the stakes of this contract.

Illinois-based Gateway Institute has held this state contract since 2019, providing assessments, therapy and service referrals to roughly 4,000 people entering probation each year.

Gateway currently provides five counselors and one supervisor to the state’s four probation offices. If Gateway leaves the contract behind – it has larger contracts in states like Texas, Florida and New Jersey – Bureau of Community Corrections Deputy Chief Heidi Collier says those counselors may be able to stick around to preserve relationships.

“If Gateway chooses not to take part in the next contract, we’ve had contractors in the past allow their staff to onboard with the new contractor," she said, "though that would be at the discretion of the new contractor versus the old contractor.”

Gateway faced lawsuits from inmates at a Wyoming prison in 2020 for allegedly overstating the severity of their addictions to place them in treatment programs that extended their stay in custody. But Gateway does not provide healthcare services to people in custody in Delaware.

A separate provider, Centurion, handles behavioral health services for the state’s incarcerated population.

While Centurion is responsible for providing those in prison receiving behavioral health services – including substance use treatment – with continuity of care during re-entry, the open contract would cover behavioral health assessments for the roughly 4,000 people sentenced to probation directly each year.

It remains unclear if Gateway will bid to continue working with Delaware. The new three-year contract is scheduled to begin in January 2023.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.