So before I go off on a tangent here, I apologize for the litany of links to come. But the situation in Florida has quickly spiraled out of control and, seeing as I’m already weeks late on reporting this, I wanted to try to put together as much info here as possible. Enjoy!
Florida’s politicians really just can’t take a hint. After they failed to force widespread privatization on the state’s prison system, against the wishes of the director of their DOC (but at the behest of companies that spent a million dollars lobbying the legislature), the asshats in the state legislature are back at it, this time with a vengeance. Even the fact that the GEO Group is under FBI investigation over a deal that brought a private prison to the state, and the state’s Circuit Court ruling the initial push unconstitutional, have failed to slow down the push to privatize.
The state Senate introduced a stand-alone bill that mirrors the one that previously failed. On January 18th, the law that would force nearly 4,000 government employees out of jobs (of course, this comes from the Republicans, the party of “job creators,” or so we’re told) passed a rules committee and went before the full Senate for consideration. A separate bill would even exempt the state from a requirement to perform a cost/benefit analysis of the proposed privatization until after a contract is signed. In a state where the two biggest private prison companies have been found to have cheated the state out of almost $13 million within the past 7 years. The state ought to perform a more thorough analysis of the potential risks and benefits of privatization before committing so many taxpayer dollars to such a risky venture. Because otherwise, this is just about as blatant a handout to corporate special interests as I could conceive, a gateway to giving millions of taxpayer dollars to companies that, if they weren’t subsidized by desperate governments, would utterly fail on the free market. Then again, Republicans don’t actually like free markets, they just like markets rigged in the favor of the wealthy, but that’s a different story altogether.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the state seems to be assisting the industry that has failed to demonstrate any significant cost savings, ever, by removing the most costly prisoners from the facilities intended to be privatized. The industry is notorious for cherry-picking the cheapest inmates, but I can’t remember an instance in which a state preemptively took the most expensive prisoners for itself. This whole thing reeks so badly of corruption that a conservative-leaning newspaper in Florida has opined that the state’s legislators “seem to be drawn to secrecy and backroom deal-making at the expense of good government and public trust.” I’ll say.
In fact, some politicians seem downright hell-bent on getting this privatization passed, despite the substantial opposition coming from pretty much everyone BUT Republicans in the state government and the industry. Senate Republicans have fast-tracked the two bills by putting them before just one committee, a committee that really has never had any responsibility in determining correctional needs. Thankfully, there is at least one Republican in the state with some sense, Mike Fasano, who has voiced his opposition to the way the bills are being handled and called upon his colleagues to refer the bill that would privatize half the prison system to the committee that oversees the state prison system. Revolutionary thinking, I know.
So Haridopolous, the bill’s sponsor, said he’ll also refer it to the Budget Committee. As in, not the criminal justice committee. As in, the same committee that hid the original privatization proviso as a last-minute amendment, prompting the circuit court to rule its actions unconstitutional. As in, the committee headed up by JD Alexander, who has pushed for privatization for years, starting with the deal that the GEO Group is currently under investigation for.
More than two hours of testimony from state employees who would likely lose their jobs if the plan moves forward failed to sway the opinions of the republicans who are just determined to destroy state jobs for the sake of giving hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations that lobby them. JD Alexander remains convinced, based on evidence no has has seen but him apparently, that the state can save $45 million per year by privatizing its prisons. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, should those fantasy numbers ever materialize, that it will come directly at the expense of the prisoners who find themselves in private lockups. The bill then passed a house appropriations subcommittee, where the legislators are seemingly unaware of the other bill that would allow for contracts to be signed with private prison operators absent any demonstration of cost-savings. In what I guess is supposed to be some conciliatory gesture towards the thousands of state employees who will be out of work, the bill requires they get the first shot at jobs at the new private facilities. Those would be jobs that pay significantly less in wages and benefits, where they would be surrounded by green staff without proper training, and where they would likely be routinely subjected to working with a short staff, which creates a dangerous environment for employees and prisoners alike. What a great deal!
Or, more accurately, what a fucking mess.