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No real answer to that one, but if you figure that in 2009 the state passed a $1 tax hike on cigarettes in order to raise nearly a billion dollars to spackle a budget hole – thus assisting such programs as Medicaid – it’s easy to glean that a one-sided study is basically a one-sided study. Chaloupka, to his credit, did present figures on health care savings related to smoking cessation in public gathering spaces, even pointing to a law in Ireland that actually did not affect people getting drunk in pubs. The takeaway: There is never an excuse not get drunk.

Except maybe going to prison. As we reported earlier this year (“Privacy policy,” May 19), the state decided in the final hours of this year’s legislative session to hand over control of a vast chunk of its prisons – practically all of the major facilities in South Florida – to private corporations. Well, we were wrong by a letter: as it turns out, the Florida Department of Corrections is set to bundle 12 prisons, six work-release centers and a handful of corrections annexes and work camps into one fat contract.

Seasoned observers might say there are only two real contenders for the prize: Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group. We’re going to go out on a short limb and say that GEO will win the contract (the value of which GEO executives have estimated to be in the hundreds of millions; the company is currently paid between $45-$65 per inmate housed, per day), with ease.

Our guess isn’t based on GEO’s home-field advantage (its headquarters are in Boca Raton), and certainly not because of its record. In Texas, GEO has a rap-sheet as thick as a Bible – in January 2010, the company was ordered to pay $40 million in damages as the result of the fatal beating of an inmate at the hands of two other inmates. “Not only had prison guards and wardens witnessed the beating, but also … stood by and laughed while it happened,” according to the San Antonio Current. On a lighter note, here in Florida, GEO’s South Bay Correctional Institution is currently being audited by the state after a June incident in which inspectors “were unable to gain entry to the facility in June despite flashing lights at a security camera to attract attention” because no guards answered the front door, according to the Palm Beach Post.

So why, then, are we betting on GEO? Money, connections and the name of a car they don’t make anymore. GEO group doled out $680,500 to the Florida Republican party during the 2010 election cycle – more than seven times the amountgiven to the party by Corrections Corporation of America. And oh yeah, one of the GEO Group’s most prominent lobbyists, Brian Ballard, hosted Gov. Rick Scott at his house for a Super Bowl party earlier this year. “These are people that are really well-connected,” said Ken Kopczynski, a Tallahassee-based lobbyist for the Police Benevolent Association, when we interviewed him in May. “[They can] walk into the Senate president’s office and have a sit-down.”

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