UPDATE: Senate budget chief privatization push would shut down three state prisons, axe at least 639 guardsby Dara Kam | March 25th, 2010
Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander just got a reluctant Senate Ways and Means Committee to sign off on his prison privatization plan that would shut down three prisons and put more than 600 prison guards out of work.
Alexander’s late-filed budget amendment, offered during the committee meeting this afternoon, drew protests from the PBA and some committee members, including Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee Chairman Victor Crist.
Alexander’s plan is to open the new Blackwater prison in the Panhandle, a 1,350-bed facility the state paid more than $160 million to build but is not yet operating. Boca Raton-based private corrections company Geo Group would run the prison, Alexander said, saving the state about $20 million a year and doing away with 639 prison guard jobs. The state corrections department would be ordered to shut down two prisons to fill the 2,200-bed facility, saving the state about $24 million a year, according to Alexander’s amendment.
Alexander’s proposal would also privatize another existing prison, although there was no mention of that during debate on his amendment this afternoon. That would save another $14 million.
Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Victor Crist opted not to open the Blackwater prison this year because the inmate population has not grown as much as expected and its decline means the extra beds are not now needed.
It is unclear whether the Department of Management Services has already signed off on a contract with Geo to run the prison.
“We’re closing a facility because they gambled on how many inmates would be here next year and the year after. This is a bail-out for the private prison industry,” Florida President Jim Baiardi told Atwater’s committee.
Alexander said he ran the amendment so the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee wouldn’t have to deal with angering the PBA, a powerful union.
“It was difficult for the committee to deal with it so I chose to deal with it myself.
I have a very hard time not spending money on schools or hospitals or childrens care when we have a real likelihood to show significant savings by opening up this new facility,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said.
“I’ve been a PBA guy from the get-go,” Alexander said. But the new prison would make the system more efficient and save money.
The amendment passed although Crist, R-Tampa, voted against it.
“I believe my budget is sound and already provides for Blackwater,” Crist, R-Tampa, said.