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Private Prison Industry Shenanigans in Florida

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Protesting private prison profiteering

The Corporate Justice Blog has taken up the issue of the privatization of the U.S. prison industry repeatedly in the past several months.  Now news from Florida, as lawmakers and private prison company executives together have attempted to circumvent the law in order to see a massive privatization effort expand to many more of the state’s prisons.  In a wide-ranging and lengthy exposé, David Reutter on Prison Legal News has painstakingly detailed the incredible conflict between private prison companies CCA and the GEO Group together with Florida lawmakers, and the public prison union as they grapple furiously in state court seeking control over the state’s prisoners.

Sadly, no party to these proceedings seems to be advocating on behalf of ending the failed system of mass incarceration in the nation or in Florida in particular, as all involved parties seek their own economic interests above all else.

Essentially, Florida lawmakers, bankrolled by the private prison lobby, attempted to massively privatize the prison system in Florida by quietly attaching a prison proviso to an appropriations bill, efforts which were recently found to be against the law by a state trial court judge.  Why attempt to hugely increase the percentage of private prisons in Florida in the dark of the night?

From the article, several very unsettling themes emerge:

First, the privatization attempt was manufactured without careful Florida legislature consideration:

“State Senator Mike Fasano, who chairs a Senate Budget Subcommittee in
charge of prison spending, applauded the court’s decision striking down
the wholesale prison privatization plan. ‘This is a perfect example of
why we should not be making major policy changes in provision language
that did not go through substantive committees, debated, and taken
testimony pro and con,’ he stated.  ‘It didn’t go through the
appropriate committee process. It wasn’t heard in criminal justice
committee in the Senate. It wasn’t heard in my committee that oversees
the Department of Corrections budget,’ Fasano noted. ‘You would think
that if we were doing such a major policy change, it would have gone
through those two committees. It wasn’t a stand-alone bill and that’s
what, if I’m not mistaken, the court has said, that it should have been a
stand-alone bill because it’s a single subject issue.’

Second, claims that private prisons save taxpayer money in the long run have proven false or elusive:

“Senate Budget Committee Chairman J.D. Alexander responded to criticism
about the failure to perform due diligence and follow proper legislative
procedures regarding the prison privatization plan by saying his
committee had received testimony that the plan would save around $22
million annually. That estimate was based on the minimum 7% cost savings
required by statute for private prison contracts, though such savings
have not been proven. . . . Despite being almost two decades into its prison privatization
experiment, Florida has been unable to show that private prisons have
been a solution to the state’s ever-expanding prison system. ‘Florida’s
experience with privatized prisons raises serious questions about
whether the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth,’ concluded an
April 2010 report by the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy
(FCFEP), an independent research organization. . . .  ‘The FCFEP found there was no evidence that prison
privatization had saved Florida taxpayers money, as required by law,
because “the procedure to establish a 7% cost savings is flawed.’
Additionally, there is virtually no difference in recidivism rates of
prisoners released from private or public prisons, so savings have been
elusive in that respect as well.”

Third, prison privatization efforts simply function as a lawmaker channeling of taxpayer funds from the public sector into the hands of private prison executive friends and donors:

“Prior to representing FDOC employees, on September 12, 2011 the
Teamsters filed an ethics complaint against Governor Scott. The
complaint alleged that the prison privatization plan was tainted by
almost $1 million in political contributions from CCA and GEO Group that
went to Scott, state lawmakers and the Republican Party.  According
to the Teamsters, during the last election cycle GEO and its executives
gave $829,665 to political parties and candidates in Florida, while CCA
donated $138,494. Additionally, both CCA and GEO made contributions to
Governor Scott’s inaugural fund in the amounts of $5,000 and $25,000,
respectively. GEO had also paid its team of Florida lobbyists between
$220,000 and $360,000 to influence state officials, and the company
reportedly said it would spend $3 million to compete for the Region IV
private prison contract.  ‘The governor’s privatization scheme smacks of political payback, pure and simple,’ said Wood.  ‘It
all comes down to politics and the big donors,’ noted Senator Fasano. ‘GEO and the other private companies that run prisons are very big
donors to the party here in Florida and to the elected officials, both
past and present.’

Finally, fourth, why privatize an industry that is clearly a governmental function?  For efficiency?  Cost saving due to competition?  Hardly.  Not in the prison industry:

“Considering there is scant evidence that private prisons in Florida have
saved the state money, and that prisoners released from
privately-operated facilities have the same or higher recidivism rates
as those released from public prisons, the repeated efforts by the state
legislature to privatize FDOC Region IV can best be explained as
political payback for campaign contributions from private prison firms.  While
companies like CCA and GEO Group will profit from expanded prison
privatization contracts, and politicians will benefit from those
companies’ continued lobbying efforts and financial largess, should the
legislature prevail in its private prison plan the loser will be
Florida’s taxpayers, as public funds will be diverted from the FDOC into
the coffers of for-profit prison firms with no discernable benefit to
the state.  As the battle to expand prison privatization in
Florida continues, one expert has recommended that everyone slow down. ‘In what will be the largest correctional privatization contract in U.S.
history, a more deliberate process would be prudent,’ said Professor
Hallett. ‘Assuming you accept the logic of market forces controlling
costs, then why would you bias the process in favor of an already
monopolized industry, which itself lowers cost efficiency and
accountability?”

The privatization of the prison industrial complex has been and will continue to be a terrible failure, for all parties involved, except perhaps, for the executives and shareholders of the private prison companies.



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