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April 24, 2011

"Effort to privatize Florida prisons raises questions of cost"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy article from the Miami Herald.  It begins this way:

Florida lawmakers are poised to make dramatic changes to the state’s prison system, turning over as many as 14 prisons to private companies in hopes of trimming the cost of housing the state’s criminals.  But as the Legislature moves aggressively to expand the reach of private prisons, fundamental questions remain unanswered.  Such as: Do private prisons really save Florida taxpayers money?  And if so, how much cheaper are they?

Florida has been experimenting with private prisons for 16 years, with almost 10 percent of the state’s 102,000 inmates now held in seven private facilities.  The state agency that oversees these prisons says they will save taxpayers almost $90 million over the next three years.  But state financial analysts say they cannot show with any certainty how much money they save over state-run prisons.

At a Senate hearing in February, legislative analyst Byron Brown said differences in how public and private prisons operate and account for expenses “limit the conclusiveness” of any cost comparisons.  “There’s never apples to apples,” Brown told lawmakers.

While the benefits of prison privatization may be hard to see, the problems have been obvious: Over the years, the arrangement has been marred by mismanagement by state monitors, lax contracts, overbilling by prison contractors, a corruption investigation, and a legal loophole that allowed sexual misconduct in private facilities to go unpunished.

The Police Benevolent Association, which represents state corrections officers, said the privatization plan could put prison security at risk, with the lower wages of private prisons forcing out veteran workers and increasing staff turnover and vacancies.  More than 4,600 corrections jobs could get wiped off the state payroll under one legislative proposal. “Their whole business model is to save money, and you save money on employees,” said Ken Kopczynski, a PBA lobbyist in Tallahassee.  “If you have high turnover, that can turn into major problems.”

Critics also say the plan to expand prison privatization is aimed at rewarding an industry that donates generously to the state Republican Party.  Since 2001, the Florida GOP has received more than $1.5 million from the two largest prison contractors and their affiliates, records show.  More than $1 million of that has come from The GEO Group of Boca Raton — formerly known as Wackenhut — which manages two of the state’s private prisons.

Supporters say state oversight of the private prisons has improved in recent years, and inspections show that private prisons are no less secure than those run by the state’s Department of Corrections.  The change is needed, backers say, to rein in the prison system’s budget — which totaled $2.3 billion last year — at a time of mammoth deficits.

April 24, 2011 at 01:09 PM | Permalink


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The Supremacy liked the logo of Wackenhut. Their letterheads showed a globe, with bars across it.

From experience, the Supremacy cannot recommend private prisons despite support for smaller government. As a tiny example of looseness, the Supremacy would walk in the hallways. Male guards in uniform would be kissing female prisoners, and not bother to pause out of deference to a stranger with some authority walking by. They had no fear of consequences. Perhaps, that was a perk in return for low pay.

There were so many areas of corner cutting and shadiness, the Supremacy had to leave despite the high pay.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 24, 2011 1:26:09 PM

Of course, not even mentioned is the incentive that prisons have for maintaining a certain population level. Paradoxically, a prison can only MAKE money by housing prisoners, and LOSES money by NOT housing prisoners, so there is more incentive to deny parole, lengthen prison sentences beforehand, etc. To me, that is actually the biggest reason why privatization should be looked at with extreme prejudice.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Apr 24, 2011 1:27:09 PM

Umm, when prisons are privatized the release process goes with it? I would be amazed if the courts would countenance that.

Although I think I've read that Florida doesn't have parole anyway. That was one of the issues in Graham, what process being due in a state that doesn't offer any process resembling parole.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 24, 2011 3:48:21 PM

Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law.

by Laura Sullivan

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, pictured here at Tea Party rally on Oct. 22, was instrumental in drafting the state's immigration law. He also sits on a American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) task force, a group that helped shape the law.

Posted by: George | Apr 25, 2011 1:52:58 AM

true florida dumped parole back in the late 90's when it went to 85% minumum time served.

The only ones who can still get parole are those who predate that and have 25 to life sentences i think!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 25, 2011 1:53:29 AM

Slave Labor, ALEC, Koch and their Conservative Agenda identified and exposed...

by Bob Sloan

Posted by: George | Apr 25, 2011 2:10:44 AM

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