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

Florida: Private prisons. You get what you pay for

August 16, 2004

Police Benevolent Association lobbyist Ken Kopczynski was monitoring a legislative committee in 1997 when someone brought up prison privatization.

Mentioning that around PBA representatives - or any state-employee lobbyists, for that matter - is like shouting "snake" at a mongoose convention. What Kopczynski did next is detailed in "Private Capitol Punishment: The Florida Model."

He spent much of Gov. Lawton Chiles' second term and Gov. Jeb Bush's first one reading prison contracts, asking questions and pursuing a couple of ethics complaints against people who were then in charge of getting taxpayers a fair shake on prison contracts.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Kopczynski will be signing copies of his slim book, subtitled "a true story of corruption, politics and for-profit private prisons," and lecturing on the topic at the downtown public library.

It's an interesting, cautionary tale - particularly appropriate in the current Capitol climate of outsourcing in state government. The moral is a couple of old cliches: You get what you pay for - and let the buyer beware.

The buyer, in this case, is the state of Florida, which locks up a lot of people and seeks to save money on housing, guarding and feeding them. There are now five privately run prisons, which are supposed to operate 7 percent more cheaply than comparable state-run prisons.

Critics have challenged that level of savings over the years, as well as contending that there's no appreciable rehabilitation advantage in private prisons. The Corrections Privatization Commission was created to look after such details.

But the for-profit prison industry employs some of Tallahassee's top lobbying talent, to see that the watchdogs are toothless and kept on short leashes.

In fact, this year the CPC just put itself to sleep. The Legislature decided to abolish the commission next year, but right away moved its contracting authority to the Department of Management Services - which didn't want it. With nothing to do, the CPC's five commissioners decided to save taxpayers the cost of conference calls and not meet any more.

DMS, with experience in managing state buildings but no background in running prisons, was given the task of deciding whether to renegotiate contracts with companies that operate the five private prisons or to seek new bids on them.

Kopczynski makes no pretense of objectivity.

The PBA represents correctional officers and has invested heavily in campaign contributions, cultivating Bush and the Legislature to assure annual raises and better benefits for its members. The union doesn't want to bargain with private contractors, who can hire at cut-rate wages and don't care if they need to find unskilled replacements every few months.

The PBA has a public petition campaign for a constitutional amendment proclaiming that public safety is a government function, not to be sold off to the lowest bidder. It put the drive on hold to see what was done about reforming the public-initiative process (not much) this year, but Kopczynski said the PBA will go for the 2006 ballot with its amendment.

His central thesis is one heard frequently from Leon County legislators and others reflexively opposed to privatization.

"It invites corruption of contracting," said Kopczynski. "And it doesn't produce any cost savings."

Contact political editor Bill Cotterell at (850) 671-6545 or

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