Prison privatization pre-vote round-up: Scott, labor unions and selling state prisonsby Dara Kam | February 14th, 2012
UPDATE: CCA spokesman Steve Owen confirmed Florida is one of the states approached by the Nashville-based private prison corporation regarding a “purchase-and-manage” plan to help federal, state and local governments in a tough economy by selling prisons to CCA in exchange for a 20-year contract. Jump to the bottom of the blog to read the letter from CCA exec Harley Lappin to 48 states’ corrections chiefs, including Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker, on Jan. 13
Here’s an update on some of the recent developments in the prison privatization plan scheduled for a Senate floor vote this afternoon. Opponents of the measure, including Lakeland Republican Paula Dockery, insist their 20-member coalition of Democrats and Republicans will hold together and kill the measure on a tie.
• Gov. Rick Scott said today that he wants the House and Senate to approve the privatization deal, which would outsource all Department of Corrections operations in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state – including more than two dozen prisons and work camps. Scott a few weeks ago called a handful of GOP senators against the plan into his office, urging them to support be good Republicans and support the proposal. They refused.
“This is an opportunity for the taxpayers of the state to save money,” Scott said. “We’re at a four year low in our crime rate and the number of inmates we have is down from what we anticipated.”
Scott offered assurances that the state would not move forward with the privatization unless vendors promised their costs would be at least 7 percent less than what the state is now spending on the region – an estimated $16.5 million of about a $232.3 million budget.
“There is no way we’ll do this if we don’t save money,” Scott said. “The bill says if we don’t save at least 7 percent we don’t do prison privatization. Why wouldn’t we put ourselves in the position to save money to put into programs that we know we need to fund.”
Some lawmakers believe Scott already has the authority to order the privatization on his own, but the first-term governor would not say if he would take that route if the bill (SB 2038) dies this afternoon.
“The right thing is for both the house and Senate to pass the prison privatization bill,” he said.
• Sen. Maria Sachs and a coalition of labor union leaders fired up the troops this morning at a press conference where they pledged to keep on fighting the privatization until the session ends on March 9.
This afternoon’s vote will “define who we are as a people,” Sachs, a Delray Beach Democrat and former prosecutor, said.
“Are we a government composed of for-profit corporations?” Sachs asked, warning that the prison privatization is a “slippery slope” that could lead to privatization of other state functions.
• And The Huffington Post is reporting that Corrections Corporation of America, one of the two vendors interested in bidding for the lucrative South Florida contract, is pitching a different privatization plan to 48 states, including Florida.
CCA has set aside $250 million to buy prisons from the state – in exchange for 20-year contracts to operate the prisons.
Read the letter from CCA executive vice president and chief corrections officer Harley G. Lappin after the jump.
“I hope that 2012 is off to a good start for you and the department.
I am writing to brief you in advance about a new program – the CCA Corrections Investment Initiative — that we plan to begin discussing with you and other key decision-makers in Florida in the coming weeks. In short, CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities. The program is a new opportunity for federal, state or local governments that are considering the benefits of partnership corrections.
As you know, CCA has built upon a three-decade reputation of private-sector excellence by constructing and managing new corrections facilities for our government partners and by entering into management contracts for operations at existing facilities. We’re proud to consistently deliver safe and efficient operations and high quality educational and rehabilitation programming for inmates and detainees under our care.
Our decision to earmark funds for the purchase and management of existing government facilities follows our success last year in Ohio with the groundbreaking acquisition of the 1,798-bed Lake Erie Correctional Facility in Conneaut. On Jan. 1, 2012, we assumed ownership and management responsibility in a transition described by all parties as seamless. This transfer culminated a process that, according to state officials, generated more than $72.7 million in proceeds for Ohio taxpayers, about $50 million of which was allocated for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Estimated annual savings in corrections operations are placed at $3 million.
At the same time, CCA is enhancing efficiencies and modernizing the systems of the Lake Erie facility. We’re also pleased that over 93% of the facility’s staff were retained by CCA and will continue working at the facility. Ultimately, Ohio will enjoy the full economic development benefits of a public-private partnership that accompanies a CCA-owned facility, including the payment of property and sales taxes, potential for further job growth, and vitality to the local economy.
We want to build on that success and provide our existing or prospective government partners with access to the same opportunity as they manage challenging corrections budgets. Interested parties would execute the sale to CCA and enter into a long-term management contract of 20 years or more. From our perspective, this type of arrangement should also be considered for a facility that CCA currently manages on behalf of Florida.
Physical requirements for facilities that would be eligible for purchase by the fund would include:
· A minimum rated occupancy of 1,000 beds;
· A structure age of no more than 25 years;
· A designation that the structure is suitable for immediate occupation or is already occupied by an inmate population; and
· An assurance by the agency partner that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy rate over the term of the contract.
CCA has worked very hard to develop the most innovative and well-respected public-private partnerships within our field, which enables us to offer this opportunity to current or potential partners and the taxpayers they serve. We’re proud that with this program CCA has enhanced its ability to meet our government partners’ needs through any combination of construction, acquisition and daily management. We believe this comes at a timely and helpful juncture and hope you will share our belief in the benefits of the purchase-and-manage model.
Please feel free to call or contact me directly at (615) 263-3001 if you have any questions, comments or interest. I would be delighted to hear from you.
Meanwhile, please accept my best wishes for a great 2012.
Harley G. Lappin”