Will Prison Privatization Save Florida Millions?

It does not matter what you think, believe, or want, because eventually the prisons in Florida will be privatized.  Governor Rick Scott is a supporter of private prison operators in our state, and he is going to make that happen. It is his belief that the state will save $22 million annually, and the state’s private prisons must be 7 percent cheaper to run than state-run prisons.

Florida is the third largest prison system in the country with 144 facilities, 102,000 inmates, and 27 million employees. There are 7 facilities already run by private operators and Governor Scott has been approved to have 29 facilities holding 16,000 inmates and covering 18 counties included in his privatization plan. It will cost to run these prisons $270 million a year.

The only thing stopping Scott from implementing his plan is the courts and a lawsuit from the Police Benevolent Association. A Leon County circuit judge has ordered the state to “cease and desist” from taking steps toward accepting bids for a prison-privatization plan that she found unconstitutional. Even though the judge had found the plan unconstitutional on September 30, 2011, it appeared that the state was getting ready to open up the bidding process.

This made no sense to me, but the PBA argued in the court on November 5, 2011, that the Department of Corrections was reopening the bidding process, and Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford blocked the process.

“This court finds that the record establishes the likelihood of irreparable injury to the plaintiffs, if the stay is not vacated and further that the defendants are not likely to succeed on the merits on appeal,” Fulford wrote.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that week she would appeal Judge Fulford’s September 30, 2011 ruling on the constitutionality of the privatization plan. Senate President Mike Haridopolos R-Merritt Island issued a statement, “Not only is the privatization of our state’s prisons good policy, but it ensures that our state can dedicate more money to education, health care or economic development programs that would otherwise be spent on prisons.

Everything always looks good on paper, and it appears on paper that Florida will save $22 million each year on its prison privatization plan. But in certain circles the experts are questioning if the prison systems are run better by private companies. They are finding that private prison guards are not better trained, and there is less staffing, because the company is more concerned with the bottom line.

Florida State Corrections Secretary James McDonough alarmed private prison companies with a recent comment on a radio show.

“I actually think the state is better at running the prisons.” he said. McDonough ran the prison system during 2007 to 2008, and an internal audit demonstrated that certain private prison operators were overpaid by $1.3 million.

It is my belief that Scott will find a way to get around the courts and 29 prisons will become privatized. Scott is leading the charge to outsource as much as he can in the state. It does not matter if the system will improve as long as he saves money for the state.

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