Florida lawmakers look to privatize prisons

The Miami HeraldMarch 29, 2011 

In what could signal a massive private takeover of public prisons, the Florida Senate quietly slipped language into its newly proposed budget Monday that seeks to give corporations the chance to run correctional facilities and probation services in 18 counties

The move — which could shift nearly $600 million to private firms — surprised prison guards, their unions and even the head of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, Mike Fasano, who said his committee was opposed to the idea of privatizing prisons when it was proposed by Gov. Rick Scott’s aides . “We made it clear that we weren’t interested. We moved on without doing it,” said Fasano, R-New Port Richey. “And now it appears in the budget. I’m not pleased. It is a huge, substantive issue. It’s a major policy change and it should have at least been discussed publicly.”

The plan’s architect, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, said the proposal was all about doing more with less and reducing the size of government. “We looked at the work of the subcommittee and realized we needed more savings,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said. He estimated the privatization initiatives yielded a 7 percent savings.

The budget language doesn’t appear to favor any one vendor although a leading contender is GEO Group, whose healthcare arm, GEO Care, has contributed at least $126,000 to state parties and candidates since 2009.

The House’s proposed budget, released Friday, takes a far more measured approach to privatizing probation and prisons. It calls for a private operator to run the facilities and services in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Those two counties are included in the Senate’s plan, which seeks to privatize services all the way north to Manatee County.

While the two chambers differ in their approaches and the amount they budget, both proposals bear a similarity to each other and the governor’s proposal: They all balance the budget by privatizing more government services, deeply cutting healthcare and taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from state worker benefits.-line difference between the two chamber’s proposed budgets appears large: nearly $3.3 billion. The House proposes spending $66.5 billion next budget year, which starts July 1. The Senate proposes $69.8 billion.

To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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