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Florida’s Private Prisons CorruptionFest 2012

(photo: jeffreyputman, flickr)

(photo: jeffreyputman, flickr)

I’ll spare everyone a summary of what’s been happening in the Florida legislature over the past two sessions (see here, here, and here, or just search for “Florida” to catch up); instead, I’ll just try to continue to update what I’d like to call CorruptionFest 2012 surrounding the effort to privatize prisons.

Again, I apologize in advance for the plethora of links to follow, but the news is coming so fast that I can’t keep up any other way.

First comes an article written by a state Senator, Paula Dockery, who calls out her fellow senators for the false promises of privatization savings and the absurd fast-tracking of the bill, which for some reason never found its way to the legislative committee that oversees corrections. No, it just went before 2 different committees headed up by JD Alexander, who has been pushing this privatization effort for years. Alexander has been telling anyone who will listen that the plan will save $22 million for the state, but he has never actually backed those numbers up with evidence.

As a reporter with the Orlando Sentinel noted, such “savings” can be particularly hard to calculate, especially given the industry-friendly contract terms that keep the most expensive prisoners in state facilities and leave the privates to handle the cheap, low-risk prisoners. Many experts who have studied the industry (and who weren’t funded by the industry in their research), have found savings from private prisons to be negligible at best; and considering the state would even leave some of the more high-risk prisoners in private facilities (which is a stupid idea in its own right), Florida’s taxpayers would likely not save much, if anything, in this process.

In response to the fast-tracking of the legislation through committees that should have no say in corrections policy, the Florida Nurses Association has sued the state over the secrecy of the plan that could cost thousands of state employees their jobs. They were followed by a coalition of 17 other organizations opposed to the privatization, who petitioned the effort’s champion, Mike Haridopolous. Then the Correctional Officers’ Union called for the state to conduct an honest cost-benefit analysis, after their initial review found that this privatization could cost Florida taxpayers MORE THAN 120 MILLION FRIGGING DOLLARS.

All of these groups, and seemingly everyone in the state other than Haridopolous, Alexander, and employees of CCA and the GEO Group, adamantly oppose this privatization push that is “too big and too fast,” according to the former deputy secretary of the state’s DOC. In fact, the entire history of this bill’s movement through the legislature alone should raise some eyebrows; it was introduced over a holiday weekend, then only 1 day was permitted for public debate (in which nearly everyone was opposed to the bill), before it passed through two Committees in record time; just eleven days after its filing, it came up for a vote before the full Senate.

Thankfully though, the Republican party in the state finally tried to live up to its reputation of fiscal responsibility, as some Senators opposed the privatization plan, and the bill stalled. Mike Fasano, who has opposed the previous, illegal push for privatization as well as the current one, spearheaded the campaign to bring some accountability to the measure. He introduced an amendment that would have required the state to conduct a cost/benefit analysis of the plan.

So Haridopolous, standup guy that he is, called for a hold in the debate. Fasano then became the latest victim of the industry’s crazed drive to privatize when Haridopolous FIRED him from his committee seat for opposing the privatization. That’s right, Haridopolous; just remove any competition you come up against in your bloodlust. Thank you, you “petulant crybaby,” (That’s a fun read, btw) for removing any doubt as to whether or not you’ve been bought by the industry. To sum up this whole stinking situation, “It’s obfuscation. It’s secrecy. It’s circumvention of laws, vindictive plots, and some smelly conflicts of interest.

Nevertheless, Governor Scott, who drug tests welfare recipients but recently refused to submit a urine sample as the beneficiary of taxpayer dollars, is “extremely disappointed” that more people haven’t bought into his bullshit and supported this terrible idea. I guess he’s not a regular reader, otherwise he probably wouldn’t be so convinced that private prisons offer better services for a better price (they do neither). In fact, he need look no further than his own government’s accounting office, which has consistently been incapable of proving any of the supposed cost-savings promised by the companies who have donated millions of dollars in campaign contributions state legislators over the past few years, and hundreds of thousands more hiring a small army of lobbyists, for this push.

The aforementioned Paula Dockery is trying to find the numbers that folks like Alexander and Scott have been referring to, going so far as to send a letter to Alexander specifically requesting the information he has that demonstrates cost-savings, because she has never seen any evidence to support a claim that private prisons save money, and believes they may in fact cost more. She has also reviewed tons of evidence showing that any potential cost-savings would undoubtedly be offset by the inevitable reduction in quality of services provided by private prison companies, who are notorious for cutting costs to maximize their bottom lines.

So as the masses call upon legislators in Florida to have some common sense and decency, to reject the privatization plan for the corrupt shitshow that it is, I urge anyone reading this from Florida to do the same. Call your representative (especially if your representative is Haridopolous or JD Alexander), call your governor, call your neighbor, your mother-in-law, or your mortal enemy, and let everyone know what a perilous adventure the state is about to undertake. The jobs of 4,000 Florida employees, and the safety and well-being of nearly 20,000 of its residents are at stake.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley