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Prison privatization pre-vote round-up: Scott, labor unions and selling state prisons

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

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.
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Are private prisons cheaper?

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

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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