For the second year in a row, legislation that would have resulted in a massive overhaul of Florida’s prison system (CorruptionFest 2012) has been defeated. The bill would have privatized half the state’s corrections system, basically everything south of Orlando; 27 facilities and thousands of state employees would have been affected. This is a great victory in the fight against for-profit corrections that would not have been possible without the work of many socially conscious groups and politicians who fought to prevent the state from contracting away its responsibility to manage the prison system it overpopulated.
Among the groups who came out in opposition to the measure were a coalition of faith-based organizations, the NAACP, and the tea party, who refused to buy the bogus claims that private prisons save money. They were up against stiff opposition in the form of a few Republicans who stretched the truth about the potential savings and sullied the political process by trying to force through the unpopular measure, which only really drew support from people and groups who have received funding from the industry.
Instead of trying to hand over half its correctional system, the state should look to reduce its prison population as a smart and safe way to save money. Florida, like many other states and the federal government, has difficulty managing its prison population because far more people are in its prisons than necessary. Simply privatizing half the system would have hardly saved 1% of the correction budget and turned over responsibility for tens of thousands of prisoners to an industry that consistently fails to treat its ward with basic human decency.
That’s probably a big reason why opposition to the plan was bipartisan, at least among those not purchased by the millions of dollars the industry spent in donations leading up to the vote. The industry not only lost out on the millions in donations they’ve spent in recent years; the GEO Group had invested nearly $650,000 in lobbyists to try to get the legislation passed. That would be mostly taxpayer dollars, spent trying to influence the legislature to embark on this foolish mission.
I’m more than certain that we haven’t seen the last of the industry’s efforts to acquire half the state’s prison system; in fact, Governor Scott can utilize mechanisms to privatize a few prisons without going through the legislature. The state already has 7 private prisons, and the industry is not likely to stop spending oodles of money to try to force its way in. But for now, Floridians can breathe a collective sigh of relief in knowing that, despite the efforts of some crooked and corrupt politicians, their legislature apparently does try to represent their best interests. At least most of it does, anyway.