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Florida Legislature to look at private prison contracts

Dec 15, 2004

Recent news events related to problems with the outsourcing of state functions prompted this letter.

Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River, is heading an effort through her chairmanship of the Senate Governmental Oversight and Productivity Committee to take a hard look at whether the state is receiving the quality of services it expected with privatization and whether the state is saving any money by contracting out these functions.

At the committee’s Dec. 1 meeting, Sen. Argenziano stated: "Sometimes the concept looks very well, but the implementation really stinks."

The Florida Police Benevolent Association (FPBA) hopes the committee will add for-profit private prisons to their list.

Over the years, the FPBA has documented corruption, lack of oversight and questionable cost savings from this failed experiment in privatization. Some examples: In 1999, Dr. Charles Thomas, a former consultant for the state agency charged with oversight of private prisons in Florida, was fined $20,000, the largest civil penalty in the Florida Commission on Ethics history, for his financial relationship to the private prison industry.

In 2002, Thomas’ former boss, Mark Hodges, was fined $10,000 for running a private criminal justice consulting business from his state office with the Correctional Privatization Commission. One of his business partners was Dr. Thomas.

The lack of ethical behavior at the very top of the agency led to slack enforcement of contract provisions which resulted in the for-profits costing the state untold thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Under state law, for-profit private prisons are supposed to produce at least a 7-percent cost savings over similar state prisons to the state.

While there has been report after report showing that this threshold has not been met and private prisons may actually cost more than their public counterparts, the state continues to fund these prisons.

Last fiscal year, the taxpayers of Florida picked up more than $1.8 million in medical costs for the private prisons because there is a medical cap on their inmates. This just adds to their lack of cost savings.

Ironically, at the same time that Sen. Argenziano’s committee was meeting, there was another Senate committee meeting taking place that also questioned the supposed cost savings by the for-profit private prison industry. At the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that day, senators were told by the Department of Corrections that the state provides prison services for less money than the privates.

The Florida PBA looks forward to seeing a discussion in this upcoming legislative session on whether to continue the private prison contracts.

David Murrell, executive director Florida Police Benevolent Association

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