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Florida: End private prison contracts!!!
End private prison contracts
A Times Editorial
Published July 27, 2005

For more than a decade, the Florida Legislature has fronted for the private prison industry with a credulous faith that it was saving money. For seven years, Gov. Jeb Bush had played along despite his well-founded belief that corrections is too serious a responsibility to be farmed out. Just this spring, the Legislature passed and he signed a budget providing for more than 1,000 new privatized beds.
But Florida now knows where too much of the money went, thanks to a devastating audit of Florida's defunct oversight agency, the Correctional Privatization Commission. The audit, conducted by the inspector general for the Department of Management Services, found that the commission approved or tolerated nearly $13-million in excess payments to two private prison companies. Worse, the commission was so indifferent to its primary duty that the state still cannot answer "the basic question of whether private prisons are operating at less cost than public prisons, as required by law."
More than 10 years after the Legislature decided that private prisons should and would cost some 7 percent less than state-run facilities, no one can say whether it's true.
The commission was worse than a toothless watchdog. It was a lapdog for the private companies. "Our review," remarked Inspector General Steve Rumph, "showed numerous instances where vendors' interests were considered over the state's interests." Among other things, the commission obligingly paid for vacant staff positions and grossly mishandled regional wage differentials. It also inflated payments to cover money the companies kicked back to the commission for its own operating costs, which for complicated reasons could have hurt the state employees who now administer the contracts.
Common sense dictates that the Department of Corrections, which houses most of the state's prisoners, should oversee those contracts until they either prove their worth or are terminated - in either case, as soon as possible. But some well-lobbied legislators still hold a grudge against the prison system for resisting privatization at the outset, which is why Management Services got a job it didn't want. That was analogous to telling the Education Department to build roads, but at least someone is finally asking the right questions.
A sixth contract, approved a year ago, remains to be awarded. It's down to two bidders, the same two companies tarred by Rumph's audit, because one of them just bought the only other competitor. The governor needs to put a stop to this.

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