Stiff opposition and a divided Florida chamber have temporarily halted a move to privatize 27 prisons in South Florida.
According to Michael Peltier of Reuters, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican, postponed the vote on privatization until this week. If successful, this measure would outsource a third of Florida's corrections facilities and work camps to for-profit vendors. With Florida already having the third largest prison system in the U.S. ($2.2 billion-a-year- overseeing nearly 101,000 inmates and 112,800 on community supervision), privatizing the state's corrections system would create the largest for-profit prison industry in the country.
Peltier goes on to say that Senate President Haridopolos and supporters of the privatization bill (SB 2038) are warning other legislators that cuts of $15 million out of the state's $69.2 billion budget will be necessary if the bill does not pass. But veteran Florida Senator Mike Fasano, also a Republican, said "the evidence is not there ... there needs to be an in-depth study to tell us if it's going to save money." As a result, Senator Fasano was quickly stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate appropriations committee by Senate President Haridopolos.
Fernando Rendon, an IBEW member and blogger on Florida Today, said that the "bill will privatize government agencies and services WITHOUT any public or expert input, and any cost analysis studies to justify the need for privatization." Rendon went on to say that there would be "no hearings, no studies, and no justifications to show if privatization is a better option."
"Haridopolos' actions (laid) bare his true intentions of giving away prisons and in the future, other government facilities and services to private interests, and the reason for this is money," Rendon said. Haridopolos insists this will be money saved for taxpayers, but in reality it will be another hand out to corporations and politicians at the expense of Florida's taxpayers. "Once those prisons go private, owners will push politicians to impose mandatory sentencing for what are now petty crimes," said Rendon. "That is the reason companies like GEO give so much in campaign contributions is that [they[ see it as an investment that they intend to make up in spades by filling jails and charging taxpayers for it."
With a divided house and many Floridians lobbying against the prison privatization measure both at home in their districts and in Tallahassee, Haridopolos may be fighting an uphill battle this week.
Photo: On the right, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, laughs it up in the Florida Senate in Tallahassee. Haridopolos removed Sen. Mike Fasano from a budget panel after Fasano fought a plan to privatize Florida prisons. Phil Sears/AP