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Are private prisons cheaper?

by Dara Kam | February 13th, 2012

The state’s private prisons aren’t costing the state less than their state-run counterparts, according to Department of Corrections data released this morning by Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the leaders of a gang of GOP senators opposed to a prison privatization plan set for floor action this afternoon.

Dockery’s data reveal that the four of the private prisons cost less than similar public institutions, but one of those prisons – Gadsden Correctional Institution, which houses female prisoners – achieved its cheaper rate in part because it was compared to Lowell Correctional Institution which also includes a more expensive reception center and Death Row inmates. Read the data here and here.

The private prisons are supposed to save taxpayers a minimum of 7 percent of what it costs to run equivalent state-run facilities.

Among the more expensive private prisons is Palm Beach County’s South Bay, operated by Boca Raton-based GEO Group, with a $48.11 per diem rate for its 1,856 prisoners. That compares to a daily rate of $37.91 per inmate at nearby Okeechobee Correctional Institution which houses 1,619 prisoners. Both have minimum, medium and close custody adult male prisoners.

Overall, the private prisons average $46.73 per prisoner per day, compared to $42.36 per day for public prisons, Dockery found. Those on both sides of the issue say it is difficult to compare the costs for the prisons because of differences in the types of inmates they house. That’s one reason Senate budget chief JD Alexander wants to privatize an entire Department of Corrections region in the southern portion of the state. He says that will make it easier to compare costs with other state-run regions after the privatization is complete.

Senators will take up amendments this afternoon on a proposal (SB 2038) that would privatize all DOC operations – including more than two dozen prisons and work camps – in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state. Backers of the plan, including Gov. Rick Scott, say it will save taxpayers money. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, estimates the savings at between $14.5 million to $44 million annually.

Dockery and Sen. Mike Fasano, whom Senate President Mike Haridopolos stripped of a budget committee chairmanship because of Fasano’s public opposition to the proposal, insist taxpayers will ultimately lose in the deal.

“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, R-Lakeland, said in a statement. “They need to start acting like any business in the private sector would and stop using imaginary numbers.”

Meanwhile, the statewide chapter of the NAACP came out against the plan – also opposed by labor unions – this morning. Dale Landry, chairman of the organization’s criminal and civil justice committee, accused Scott and GOP lawmakers of being influenced by the private prison companies’ campaign donations

GEO and Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, have contributed at least $2 million to candidates or political parties since Scott’s election in 2010. GEO contributed at least $336,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in the past year. The two vendors would be the primary bidders on the plan, which would give contracts to at least two companies to participate.

“One only has to look at contributions by the two primary candidates for operating the private prisons in Florida, CCA and the GEO Group, and we can understand the power of these corporate masters over the Republican leadership,” Landry said. “As a result, they are calling for a redemption of their investments.”

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12 Responses to “Are private prisons cheaper?”

  1. larryh32 Says:

    This is just Payoff for Gov Scott’s Election supporters! Wait until the first lawsuit then it will be alot more expensive!

  2. B W Says:

    The crooked governor is paying off his Republican buddies.


    Privatization of government services is the biggest right wing scam in American history. They do it all the time. And people fall for it OVER and OVER and OVER again.

    Serves us right for electing Republicans, knowing fully well that their privatization scams are ONLY to enrich their cronies.

    What a disgrace!

    Shame on the Republicans!!!!!!!!

  4. Privatization Says:

    Do we really want the prisons run as a profit making enterprise?

  5. Toni Says:

    One person’s comment said shame on the Republicans which I agree on – but more importantly it should be shame on the voters who continually put these people back into office. Privatization of the jails only benefits the private security companies like GEO and will soon be a boon to the private medical clinics that Scott will install in each of the private prisons as another payback to campaign contributors. So what do you the voter get out of it? Higher taxes to pay the higher costs of privatization!

  6. Bill Neubauer Says:

    It’s interesting to see the advocates and critics of a proposal to privatize Florida prisons. Guess whose figures purport to show that private prisons cost more–why, the Department of Corrections, of course. Then there are the unions. Of course they want to keep their members’ jobs. It’s not clear to me what prompts the NAACP to oppose privatization. Maybe they have union connections. It would seem to me to make some sense to privatize at least some of the prisons so that taxpayers would have some actual unbiased cost figures to compare.

  7. Brian O'Donaghey Says:

    In a capitalist, free market economy, profit margins drive everything. The private prison industry, it’s lobbies, and politicians supported by that industry must do everything in their power to keep that industry profitably healthy.

    Private prisons may cost less money to operate,…. but how much less? Expect a higher social cost to citizens and freedom when every prison industry and political incentive is made to keep those prisons FULL. That means retaining outdated laws, making up new laws that require incarceration, and jailing people for even insignificant offenses. Jaywalkers, litterbugs, parking offenders, and who knows what else will earn you a stay in the graybar motel.
    All for profit mind you……and not for keeping society safe.
    Bottom line, follow the money.

  8. round up Says:

    imagine the kind of govt bailout the corrections industry gets on this if they hit hard times with empty cells. politicians will demand the cops to round up all the usual suspects, trump up the charges. that gets the prisons out of the red and keeps the election contributions flowing. if your not a lawbreaker – just wait, theyll pass a law that makes you one

  9. Taxpayer Says:

    The biggest joke is The Florida Civil Commitment Center run by GEO. The public has been scared into thinking the 800 men housed there are dangerous, violent sex offenders. Yes, there are dangerous, violent sex offenders there – about 10% of the population. The rest are just plain ordinary guys who were victims of the unconstitutional Jimmy Ryce Act. Also, no other state except California can possibly claim so many sex offenders – the number is just too high. What’s wrong here?

  10. Joe Sarasota Says:

    Ending the drug war would empty the prsons – that will really save money.

  11. J Nunn Says:

    Senator Alexander says, “you privatize a region and find out exactly what the savings are”. How asinine is that? Let’s don’t even take time to REALLY figure out if it may or may not save money, just go ahead & disrupt the lives of over 4,000, not just Correctional Officers, but their whole families, their homes, their communities, these peoples entire livelihoods are going to be a great big experiment just so the Private Prison Companies can get their payback. No study needs to be done to clearly see that!

  12. Eric Says:

    It’s pretty obvious that the unions are doing everything possible to stop the trend toward privatization. There have been lots of studies on this. For the most part, privately run prisons are cheaper, better managed and provide significantly more accountability. This will come as no surprise to anyone that’s spent any time dealing with government agencies.

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