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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Should Florida privatize prisons in 18 South Florida counties?
Mary McCoy
The Florida Legislature has proposed outsourcing state prisons, other corrections facilities and work camps to private vendors. Florida operates a $2.2 billion-a-year prison system, which is the third-largest prison system in the United States, according to Reuters news service. Tuesday (Feb. 14), the Senate will vote on privatizing prisons, said state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. Haridopolos and Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, have been pushing a plan for two years for prison privatization. A similar plan was approved last year by the state Legislature as part of its budget, but it was struck down by a court, which said it must be passed through a separate piece of legislation. Our roundtable participants share their views on privatization. Editor’s note: Sen. J.D. Alexander’s position was gathered from statements made in public forums:
Mike Fasano
Republican State Senator, New Port Richey

Fasano was removed by Sen. Haridopolos as chairman of the criminal justice budget committee because he questioned the privatization deal saying the issue should be studied more.

He told us Florida’s prisons should not be run by private companies.

“The prisons that would be privatized have been paid for by the taxpayers of Florida to the tune of $500 million. A few of those prisons, the taxpayers are still on the hook for paying for the bonds that built the correctional facility. The legislation would turn over a half billion dollars’ worth of taxpayer-paid correctional facilities to for-profit companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

“We as Republicans criticized when the banks were bailed out, when Wall Street was bailed out, when the auto industry was bailed out; some of my Republican colleagues are pushing to bail out companies that run private prisons. If nothing else, this is a public safety issue. You don’t privatize public safety, putting our communities at risk.

“Unfortunately, in Tallahassee, sometimes they look at the money but don’t look at the effect a policy will have on a person. If prison privatization would pass and become law, 3,500 correctional officers and their families will be at risk of not having employment.”

Brad Swanson
Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Florida Chamber of Commerce

The chamber supports avenues that support government streamlining. Privatizing prisons is a more cost effective manner of operating and provides the same service, according to nearly two decades of data.

If you look at it from a public safety impact, you see a greater supply of programming that lends itself to a greater impact on recidivism. These facilities would operate under the same criteria (as state-run prisons) along the safety lines. They would operate at the same current safety standards, but at a lower cost.

It’s no secret to the chamber that many operations that are supplied by unionized labor, once they’re turned over (to private companies) have succeeded more successfully. The data proves that.

Privatization makes sense. It could save in the neighborhood of $20 million. That could be spent on teachers. The state could make better use of those dollars.

Jeanie Demshar
Dir. of Prof. Practice Advocacy and Labor Relations, Florida Nurses Assoc.

The Florida Nurses Association has filed a lawsuit that challenges the state’s authority to privatize health care services in the state prison system.

“We believe that any effort to turn thousands of state employee jobs over to private companies needs to be vetted by the public, with input from those workers,’’ Demshar told us.

Demshar said Department of Corrections health employees include registered nurses, advanced registered nurse practioners, dentists, dietitians, pharmacists, nutritionists, behavioral analysts, behavioral specialists, psychologists and mental health consultants.

“FNA stands opposed to any privatization of the Department of Corrections’ health care obligations. Win or lose, we will continue to fight the proposed efforts to put more than 1,000 health care professionals out of work.

“A lot of these prisons are in rural areas so a lot of these people don’t have elsewhere to go for jobs.”

Demshar says private management could result in pawning off the most expensive prisoners to house including the infirm, mentally ill and physically disabled, and cutting corners such as safe guard-to-prisoner ratios and employment qualifications.

J.D. Alexander
Florida Senate Budget Committee Chairman

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee is a proponent of prison privatization as a cost-cutting measure.

"Competition makes us all better,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “It's uncomfortable, it's not always fun, but I believe that it makes us better."

Alexander has said private companies would be legally required to provide services that are 7 percent less expensive than operation of state-run prisons. He said he believes the real cost savings range from 7.5 percent to nearly four times that amount, in different institutions.

He has said the cost savings could be used for other state priorities including K-12 education, helping those with disabilities and foster children programs.

Alexander said he appreciates the job all prison employees do. "These are hard-working Floridians; my heart goes out for them," he told the Miami Herald.

But he said the cuts have to start somewhere.

by Dr. Radut.