By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The state Senate appears ready for battle today over a GOP plan to turn over a lot more of the state’s prisons to private companies.
Republican leaders have been pushing hard to privatize one-fifth of the state’s corrections facilities along with all inmate health care. Right now, about 9,000 inmates are in the state’s seven privately run “correctional facilities,” a small fraction of the roughly 100,000 people incarcerated in the third-largest state prison system in the United States.
But the privatization plan has run into opposition, not only from Democrats but from some skeptical Republicans as well.
State Sen. Paula Dockery released a report showing that the state’s existing private prisons aren’t actually saving money over publicly run prisons — undercutting the outsourcers’ strongest argument.
She’s been joined in opposition by Sen. Mike Fasano, a Pasco County Republican who was stripped of his chairmanship of the criminal justice budget committee after questioning the privatization deal. Senate President Mike Haridopolos yanked the chairmanship after Fasano offered an amendment requiring a thorough study of privatization’s costs and benefits.
That amendment failed yesterday in a close vote, 21-19 — a close enough vote that GOP leaders couldn’t be sure they’ll be able to pass their privatization bill, which they plan to present today.
Months ago, Gov. Rick Scott fired his first corrections secretary, Ed Buss, for his tepid support for the lawmakers’ plans to privatize “all of the prisons in the 18-county region south of Polk County to the Florida Keys,” according to the Palm Beach Post.
Dockery, a Republican from Lakeland, was obviously referring to such heavy-handed moves in a statement issued yesterday. “In an effort to privatize our state’s prisons, Senate leaders are acting like politicians at their worst — twisting arms in backrooms and giving contracts to special interest donors,” Dockery said. “They need to start acting like any business in the private sector would and stop using imaginary numbers.”
Proponents of the sweeping privatization plan insist that Florida will save 7 percent over state-run prisons. But Dockery has noted that there are few reliable comparisons — prisons differ so greatly. And “there’s extensive evidence that shows private prisons have received the cream-of-the-crop inmates — leaving the state with more-expensive sick, elderly and dangerous prisoners.”
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