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Florida: Supposed private prison cost savings challenged.

Private prison savings debated
Joni James
St. Petersburg Times
February 25, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Ten years after Florida hired private companies to run some state prisons, lawmakers still aren't convinced the deal saves tax money.

"What are the real costs and what are the real savings?" Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, asked Thursday. "We've got to find that out."

The discussion was part of a long-running dispute between the companies and the Police Benevolent Association, which represents prison guards.

PBA lobbyist Ken Kopczynski told the panel private prisons never produced the 7 percent savings required under state law. And the private prisons pay corrections officers $3,000 less than state prisons, leading to higher turnover rates.

"If the Legislature wants private prisons for "privatization's sake' it should just say so," Kopczynski said.

But lobbyists for the private prison operators countered that the five prisons under their supervision have never had a riot, escape or other incident. They argued they saved the state millions of dollars.

"It is very difficult to compare facilities," said Matt Bryan, Tallahassee lobbyist for Corrections Corp. of America of Nashville. The other private prison company is the GEO Group of Boca Raton.

Crist said he would order the Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to investigate.

Last year, state lawmakers disbanded the Correctional Privatization Commission. The governor-appointed group was criticized after its efforts to rebid five private prison contracts led to questionable behavior by some of its staff, including a decision to hire a former state corrections secretary as a consultant in violation of state law.

The Department of Management Services has overseen the contracts since July. But Gov. Jeb Bush wants to move that responsibility to the Department of Corrections. Key lawmakers, including Crist, disagree.

Joni James can be reached at 850 224-7263 or

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