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NEWS

Privacy policy

Florida prepares to hand over management of many of its prisons to private corporations

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This time next year, the largest experiment in prison privatization in the nation's history is expected to be well underway in the state of Florida.

If everything goes according to the legislature’s plans, 12 prisons, six work-release centers and a handful of corrections annexes and work camps – nearly all of the Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities in 18 South Florida counties – as well as the state’s entire prison health care system will be removed from state control and placed in the hands of private corporations specializing in prison management.

During the final throes of the 2011 state budget negotiations, the legislature voted to take bids on prison-management contracts potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Proponents of the plan – mostly Republicans – say that the cash-strapped state stands to save $27 million by contracting out these services. Though the legislation still awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s approval, press secretary Lane Wright indicates that Scott is supportive of the initiative.

But detractors point out that the two corporate giants expected to bid contracts – the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) of Nashville, Tenn. – both have spotty histories when it comes to prison safety and hiring practices. There’s also some doubt that the private operators, which are accustomed to working out of their own modern facilities with easy-to-manage inmate populations, will be able to actually save the state money if they have to work with inefficient, older facilities that house more difficult inmates. In addition, there’s the persistent moral question as to whether the government should outsource punishment to companies whose profits increase as the number of incarcerated individuals grows. (Private prison operators in Florida earn anywhere between $45-$65 per inmate, per day.) Opponents also fear that the political influence wielded by the private prison operators – especially the GEO Group, which has donated heavily to Florida politicians – has caused legislators to make questionable decisions about prison regulation. For instance, the legislature voted this year to abolish the Correctional Medical Authority, the state agency that monitors the quality of health care in state prisons, by the end of the fiscal year in June.

As of now, there are seven private prisons operating in Florida, and they house roughly 10 percent of the state’s 102,191 inmates. CCA operates four of them, GEO operates two and a smaller company, Management & Training Corporation, operates a women’s facility in Gadsden. When the legislature’s new privatization plan goes into effect on January 1, 2012, most of the prison facilities operating in the southern part of the state will be turned over to private companies; it will be the first time in Florida that private prison operators would take over existing DOC facilities, rather than designing their own.

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