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Florida’s Love Affair With Private Prisons

7:56 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

A tiny jail window.

Historic jail in Florida. Photo by Marsanne Petty.

Many lawmakers in Florida, home of the GEO Group, are enamored with the idea of prison privatization.  Legislators, mostly Republican, have thrice attempted (and failed) to privatize half the state’s prison system within the past two years. The former speaker of the house, serving time in prison, is still being investigated by the FBI in part for his role in bringing a private prison to the state and attempting to force the closure of multiple state facilities to populate it. He’s also the target of a federal grand jury investigation for his dealings with the GEO Group.

In the towns of Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines, residents have been waging war against CCA and ICE, who want to build a huge immigration detention center there. Upset over the risks of bringing a private prison to town, residents have already faced legal harassment after they have failed to capture the attention or sympathy of their representative, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. The parties are engaged in a struggle over resources, as CCA is attempting to strong-arm the small towns into providing water and sewer services to the prison. Pembroke Pines has already had to shell out more than $120,000 in legal fees to battle a detention center that the federal government seems to be forcing on them.

The most recent battle in Florida has arisen over the state’s plans to privatize health care for all its prisoners, which I guess was the fall-back option if wholesale privatization failed. The plan is being challenged by the Nurses’ Association, which filed a lawsuit similar to the one that successfully defeated the wholesale privatization; basically saying the state Legislature didn’t have the authority to order such a sweeping change to such a huge portion of the state budget without passing a stand-alone bill. It’s estimated that as many as 2,800 jobs and $300 million of the budget could be impacted by the switch, which is also opposed by the union that represents COs.

It seems simple to explain part of this love affair, the GEO Group and CCA have contributed huge sums of money to Florida legislators, with most of that going to Republicans. During the last election cycle, the industry donated nearly $1 million to campaigns, with more than 80% of that coming from the GEO Group. GEO has already given more than $100,000 to Governor Scott for the upcoming election.

But just looking at the campaign contributions fails to reveal the whole story. Governor Scott’s closest advisor and de facto gatekeeper, Steve McNamara, is a man with so much political influence he’s been called the state’s “Shadow Governor.”  He also happens to be close personal friends with Jim Eaton, head lobbyist for the GEO Group, which might help explain why Scott decided to can the head of the Department of Corrections for challenging the privatization scheme. After news came out that McNamara had been using his influence to advance himself and his friends politically and financially, he was forced to resign. Jim Eaton, by the way, also happens to be the head lobbyist for Wexford, one of the companies in the running for the state healthcare contract.  So McNamara’s influence is likely to last well beyond his tenure as “Shadow Governor.”

More on Florida’s Privatization Mess

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

The Story That Just Won’t Go Away

I don’t want to re-hash everything I’ve written about the absurd privatization push / corporate handout happening in Florida.  You can find plenty of material on it by just looking back.  I want to take a minute though to try to update the situation, again, as well as possible.  So I won’t go into a long rant about anything here, I’ll just give you some quick bullet points.  And just FYI, none of this even deals with the brewing situation in Southwest Ranches, where CCA is forcing an immigration detention center down the throat of a very angry populace. 

  • Florida is also trying to privatize healthcare for its entire prison system (in addition to privatizing half the prisons).  The bidding process has drawn a lot of scrutiny and generated many questions, so much so that the state had to push back the date for the bids to be submitted. It will probably go through though, unfortunately.  In a related story, North Carolina is foolishly looking to do the same thing.
  • The executive director of the union representing COs in the state wrote an excellent opinion piece urging the state Senate to find some other way to save money, considering the questions surrounding the claim that the venture will save $22 million.
  • The editorial board of the Palm Beach Post came out with an excellent piece questioning Gov. Scott’s motives in pushing the privatization, given the $1 million donated by the industry leading up to the last election and questions regarding the proposed cost savings.
  • Also, the state should really consider the company it’s about the get in bed with, as a GEO Group guard appears to have been extremely negligent in permitting a prisoner to commit suicide.
  • Finally, I couldn’t help but link to this absurd example of poor journalism, as the editorial board at the Daytona Beach News-Journal claims privatization offers “Major Savings.”  The argument is based on practically nothing but the long-ago dismissed notion that if private prisons fail to offer savings, they won’t get contracts (they actually just lobby harder and still get them).  The real icing on the cake comes when the author(s) admit that the state previously lost tens of millions of dollars in a privatization venture, but make no mention of how a similar problem could be avoided this time around.  Really, this is one of the absolute dumbest things I’ve ever seen an editorial board write.


      Cause for Concern in Florida’s Private Prisons

      2:16 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

      "prison guard tower"

      "prison guard tower" by Rennet Stowe on flickr

      Cause for Concern

      Last month, investigators from Florida’s Department of Corrections came to the South Bay CF, run by the GEO Group, to conduct an inspection of the facility.  While this should not have made headlines, it did becausethe investigators could not get into the prison.  After repeatedly using the call box and even shining a flashlight directly into the security camera at the gate, investigators were unable to contact anyone inside the prison to let them in.  Apparently, there were no guards in the control room or monitoring the perimeter of the facility to let them in.  What’s even worse is that the Florida DOC doesn’t even have authority to oversee the prison – that’s handled by the Department of Management services, which apparently lets the GEO Group conduct its own internal investigations of staff misconduct.  Because who would want a department of corrections to oversee something like corrections? 

      So the investigators filed a report, and the DMS released their own (heavily redacted) report about the incident, but no one has given a firm answer yet as to why staff were unresponsive for at least 20 minutes of the investigators’ trying to get their attention.  This is very concerning, considering the state is pushing hard to privatize the correctional services of 18 counties.  There are some very high benchmarks in the request the state has put out though, such a mandating 7% savings and forcing the private vendor who wins the contract to provide programs proven to reduce recidivism.  I have absolutely zero faith in any private for-profit company to meet these benchmarks, since the industry has steadfastly failed to live up to similar expectations throughout its history.

      I’ve written extensively on the failures of private prisons to provide programming and offer cost-savings.  But Florida’s politicians need look no further than their own state to see that privatizing correctional services doesn’t save money.  Because Jackson County, which recently had been seeking to outsource prison healthcare, recently decided to continue to have the government provide healthcare.  Why?  Because the county will save MILLIONS of dollars per year in doing so. That’s right – it would cost millions more for a private company to provide healthcare to prisoners than the government.

      Is there any question anymore that Ric Scott, JD Alexander, and all the other Florida politicians looking to privatize prisons aren’t merely corporate shills?