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Prison workers decry privatization

by Dara Kam | January 23rd, 2012

Emotional pleas and threats of questionable savings and a danger to public safety failed to move an elite group of senators who gave preliminary approval to a sweeping prison privatization plan struck down by a judge last year.

Dozens of prison workers from throughout the state packed the Senate Rules Committee and testified for more than two hours on a fast-tracked proposal (SB 2038), pleading with the panel to slow down and warning that the savings for the state from outsourcing are overstated.

The privatization effort coincides with a Department of Corrections decision to shut down seven prisons and other facilities, doubling the prison workers’ worries.

Amanda Abers, 28, told the committee she moved from Minnesota to Florida a year ago to work at Indian River Correctional, a youth offender prison slated for closure.

“Vero Beach is not a big area. This is going to hit the economy very, very hard. You’re putting me out on the street plus their spouses, their kids, everybody,” she said.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, who included the privatization in the budget last year and sponsor of the proposal, said the outsourcing will force the department to reexamine its spending and questioned its management after the discovery last year that the agency had 12,000 empty beds scattered throughout the system. Shutting down the prisons will save an estimated $77 million annually, Alexander said.

“Competition makes us all better. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not always fun. But I believe that it makes it better,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said.

Privatizing the 18-county region in the southern part of the state from Polk County to the Florida Keys – about one-fifth of the state’s corrections operations affecting about 3,000 workers – will save from $22 million to $45 million a year, according to Alexander.

Several speakers said the private prison operators, including Boca Raton-based GEO Group which operates South Bay Correctional Institution, are able to save money by cutting back on staff, skimping on inmate programs and paying lower wages and providing fewer benefits for workers.

Deedra Jackson, who works at the state-run Hillsborough Correctional Institution, said she also worked at South Bay, where she said there were far fewer guards per inmate.

She equated privatizing prison operations to outsourcing the military.

“As corrections officers, we go to war every day,” Jackson said.

The committee approved the measure by a 10-4 vote, with a single Republican – Rep. Dennis Jones of Seminole – opposing.

Jones rejected other GOP senators’ arguments that the prison savings are needed so the money can be spent on education and health care as lawmakers grapple with a $1.4 billion budget hole.

“I’m not willing to balance the state budget on the backs of public safety at this time,” Jones said.

A House budget subcommittee is considering the privatization plan on Tuesday and the Senate Budget Committee will vote on the measure on Wednesday.

The Rules Committee also signed off on another measure (SB 2038) that would make it easier for lawmakers to outsource state functions. The proposal is a response to Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling, now being appealed by lawmakers, that the way they ordered the prison privatization last year was unconstitutional.

Alexander tweaked the bill on Monday to require that a business case be made for the privatization but acknowledged that may not mean much, pointing to a four-page analysis provided by corrections officials regarding the privatization last year.

“I’m certain either of my daughters who are in college could have prepared this,” he said.

The measure, approved by a 9-5 vote, is “really about the legislature’s prerogative,” Committee Chairman John Thrasher said.

“This is about the Florida legislature making a policy decision we believe is in the best interest of the state of Florida,” said Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

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9 Responses to “Prison workers decry privatization”

  1. thinker Says:

    Of course the unionm members would $itch. The unions have the TAX payer vacation for tooooo long. break ALL unions . Why should MY tax money pay for someone else”s retirement ?I have to pay for my own .
    Now watch the union robots comment.

  2. jackson Says:

    Alexander, Haridopolos, Gaetz and Thrasher are using smoke and mirrors to privatize. Truth is they have to pass this to pay back their wealthy corporate masters. DOC workers don’t stand a chance, its all rigged by the republican leaderhsip.

  3. Davemann Says:

    As a correctional officer, in my opinion, I consider it unethical for a corporation to benefit over another persons incarceration. Also, inmates love private prisons because the security is so lax, contraband is readily available.

    State pay is dismal to begin with and private prisons will pay even less. When the officers are required to work 2 jobs just to survive, do you /really/ think a company oficer is going to care what really goes on in the prison so long as he feels safe himself?

    It is easy to view corrections as an unwanted expense to be cut, but the effects that are not seen by the public are outrageous and can barely be referred to as ‘ware housing’ inmates.

    Waste an inefficency keeps up costs. Privatizing the prisons is good for the company and the inmates wanting to do bad while in prison. It is bad for the officer working in the prison pay & benefit wise and for public safety.

  4. Davemann Says:

    Though I agree in principle that unions should be scaled back, as they are used more as a political tool than a protection for employees, they shouldn’t be banned as they help guarantee worker protections which prompted their creation in the first place.

    As far as government pensions go, I think they are appropriate if handled responsibly. Especially for the jobs few take that involve risking their lives to protect the public. Fire/police/corrections as examples.

  5. theloneconsumer Says:

    So there are a couple of problems with privatisation and free markets for corrections companies GEO and all.
    Because since Jeb Bush, HIV/ Aids prisoners are excluded from the prisons that are private.
    As other papers have reported, the private companies are CAPPED the number of sick patients.
    HIV Aids prisoners are REMOVED from prisons.
    And while we are at it, illegal immigrants are incarcerated, and the work contracts (they all make $1 or $2 an hour tops) allow a billion dollar profit enterprise.
    More illegal immirgrants, more money “pimping” them out for cheap work.

  6. RealAngst Says:

    thinker..clearly you dont think and I am NOT a union member. If you undeerstood the political nature of law enforcement, fire service and others that you claim “your tax dollars” pay for, there is a reason they have those retirements and by the way, no tax exemption. Therefore they DO pay into their own plan every day in addition to risking life and limb to do what you lack the testicular fortitude to do. Try a month as a Correctional Officer, Street Cop dealing with the public and “their” emergencies or something that isnt just for you. How about we let all the inmates out, start over from scratch. Then you can deal with the violent predators and dont call 911, sack the eff up and handle it yourself. TOOL!

  7. logical Says:

    The C.O.s are already paid poorly. How is cutting their pay and benefits going to help? The private company has to make $ or why bother doing it? This is pay back to the corporations that paid off the right politicians in good old boy Tallahassee. I love Florida. One party rule at its best. Does Thinker think this is going to save $?

  8. CitizenZero Says:

    Only an uninformed fool would spout that anti-union B.S. in a state that doesn’t have unions. Wake up! This isn’t Michigan or California where the unions used their sway to make bank. In Florida, the Republicans have the cards, but they’re doing the same thing.

    State employees pay part of their own salary as state taxpayers, so don’t get all high and mighty. And (in Florida) it’s a small price to pay to have someone watch all those criminals for you or save your house from a fire, isn’t it?

  9. mitchell pelt Says:

    all these people are crooks that are privatizeing prisons they are getting paid by the private companies some how rick scott is the bigest one

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