Charter Rights
Story Archives
Sign Our Guestbook
View Guestbook
Contact Capp @   or   Post Comments  CAPP Message Board   and  Any Upcoming Events

Privatization nightmare
A Times Editorial

St. Petersburg Times
May 1, 2004

The commission created to oversee private contracts for state prisons is being disbanded after questioning the cost of doing business with two big campaign contributors.

Three years ago, Carlos Lacasa, the Republican chairman of what was then called the House Fiscal Responsibility Council, criticized the lack of financial accountability for private prisons in Florida. Lacasa also offered a generalized warning about privatization: "If you try to fire a company, they will come in with an army of lobbyists and try to extend the deadlines and change the laws. It's a nightmare."

Welcome to the future. The Correctional Privatization Commission, created to oversee some $90-million in private contracts for five state prisons, is being delivered the legislative equivalent of a lethal injection. It is being disbanded primarily because it dared to question the two companies, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, that are paid to run the prisons. The commission's attempt to explore whether other companies could do the job cheaper was met with legal challenges and a full-scale lobbyist assault.

Just ask the commissioners themselves, all of whom were appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush.

"I tell you in no uncertain terms, CCA is ruining all this," commissioner Bob Ryals, a Tallahassee Realtor, told Times reporter Joni James. "They've got their high-powered lobbyists, and I'm just so angry that I can hardly talk about it."

The commission can be justly criticized for its selection of former state Corrections Secretary Michael Moore to oversee new prison bids. But make no mistake here. The Legislature is not cutting off the commission's funding, with Bush's support, because it takes ethical offense. Lawmakers simply want to make sure, especially in an election year, that they continue to receive the fruits of their generosity to CCA and GEO. Since 1996, CCA has handed out $70,000 in political campaign contributions and GEO has delivered $492,600.

Under state law, these private companies are supposed to do the job 7 percent cheaper than the prisons run by the state. But at least two of the private prisons have failed that standard, to no apparent consequence. What that means is they are receiving tax money without accountability, precisely the "nightmare" of which Lacaso spoke.

Gov. Bush claims the Department of Management Services will do a fine job taking the place of the Privatization Commission, and maybe he's right. But the lesson here is a clear one: Those who cross the prison businesses will pay a heavy price.

| Post Any Upcoming Events | Top of Page | Home Page | Post Comments on Message Board |