Prison Privatization in Florida Puts Public at Risk

by Erick Sanchez  |  January 19, 2012

ORLANDO – The largest privatization of state prisons in American history could be on the way in Florida, after a Senate Rules Committee last week introduced two bills that will affect 29 facilities housing 16,000 inmates. An estimated 3,800 state employees face job losses under the proposed bill.

Currently, there are nine privatized prisons in the state, run by three private prison firms (CCA and GEO Group have the largest stake). These private prisons house 10 percent of Florida’s inmates. As always, there’s much to be learned by following the money.

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, GEO Group and its executives gave more than $705,000 to political candidates and parties in Florida in 2010, while CCA donated $138,994 – primarily to Republican causes. And both CCA and GEO kicked in $30,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s inaugural fund. Since 2004, GEO has given $1.8 million to Florida political candidates, parties and committees.

Also, based on Senate records, GEO paid its Florida lobbyists between $220,000 and $360,000 to influence state officials since October 2010, which Private Corrections Institute, a Florida-based non-profit watchdog organization that opposes the privatization of correctional services, criticized as “pay-to-play” politics.

These bills will remove oversight and put our prisons in the hands of lobbyists and the corporations looking to profit, who have bought influence in Tallahassee. We know from previous reports that the public safety in Florida communities will be at risk and taxpayers could end up shelling out even more to run more costly private facilities. Private prisons have a history of poorly trained personnel that increase the amount of prison violence and escapes.

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