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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.”

Monday, August 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former Rep. Loranne Ausley, isn’t waiting until the primaries are over to bash her GOP opponent – Senate prison-to-nowherePresident Jeff Atwater – in the race for state CFO.

Ausley’s blasting Atwater’s voting record on spending issues in an attempt to paint the North Palm Beach banker as a Tallahassee insider (Ausley spent eight years in the Florida House and whose family has ties to the late Gov. Lawton Chiles) out of touch with Floridians.

Ausley’s latest attack slammed Atwater for a program that did away with 71 prison work squad jobs and created a controversial new private prison in the Panhandle.

Ausley dubbed the Blackwater River Correctional Institution, run by Boca Raton-based Geo Group, the “Prison to Nowhere” that cost taxpayers $110 million during this year’s budget-slashing session. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, which fiercely opposed opening the prison this early, the prison work squads saved taxpayers $35.7 million.

“Senate President Jeff Atwater’s ‘prison to nowhere’ is yet another product of the broken system in Tallahassee, and once again Florida taxpayers are stuck with the bill,” said Ausley. “Floridians are fed up with politicians who play by their own rules with our money. Whether it’s the ‘Tallahassee Taj Mahal,’ the ‘Prison to Nowhere’ or an airport hanger for a political contributor, politicians in Tallahassee need to be held accountable.”

Ausley last week slammed Atwater for supporting a new District Court of Appeals courthouse building in Tallahassee, which she called the ‘Taj Mahal.’

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