Monday, April 25, 2011

JD Alexander Loves His Corporate Sugar Daddy

Private prisons don't save money. The state of Florida, which has been using private prisons for at least 15 years, has never been able to prove they save money. But that hasn't stopped JD Alexander, a big fan of the GEO Group, (and Senate Budget Chief) from proposing to privatize half the state system, as a way of "saving money." Really, it's just a handout to a company that has donated millions to Florida Republicans, the latest effort by Alexander to funnel taxpayer dollars to his corporate friends.

Under Alexander's plan, older prisons in the south of Florida would be sold to private operators. Older prisons are more expensive to operate and maintain than newer facilities. Considering private prisons can't be shown to have saved any money in the first place, I question Alexander's logic in thinking his proposal could somehow be fiscally responsible (after all, isn't that what the Republicans claim underlies their every action?).

In addition to the fact that private prisons in Florida can't even prove they save money, they have consistently failed to perform up to the proper standards. Private prisons in Florida are not overseen by the DOC; they were initially managed by a special commission that was fraught with mismanagement and corruption. Following major scandals in the mid-2000s, oversight was transferred to the Department of Management Services, where private prisons have improved, slightly. From 2008 to 2010, a GEO Group prison was found to be below "acceptable" standards in 3 out of every 4 months it was reviewed; a CCA facility went 17 of 24 months as "below acceptable."

Private prisons also routinely deny adequate medical care to prisoners. Medical care is one of the biggest costs a prison operator has (aside from staffing), and private prisons deny care to sick prisoners as a way to maximize profits. In fact, 2 private prisons spent less than half as much money on medical care (to the tune of $8 million) than 2 state-run prisons in a comparison. But some in the state legislature have proposed turning over all medical care to private contractors. Apparently they don't care about prisoners with serious medical needs.

So private prisons can't prove they save any money in Florida. Private prisons definitely perform worse than government-run prisons. The state wants to turn over older facilities to private operators, who can't operate new facilities cheaper than the government. The private prison industry has donated millions to Florida's Republicans, while expanding into new markets like parole monitoring, right before various proposals in the state legislature spring up to privatize a huge portion of the state's correctional system.

JD Alexander says "[By privatizing half our state system] we could more definitely answer the question of whether there is cost savings." There is no question at this point, Mr. Alexander. Florida has conducted this failed experiment with private prisons for over a decade and a half, and no evidence has demonstrated any savings. Further, any savings that could possibly be achieved are offset by the human costs of for-profit incarceration. I'd say you should know better, but I'm sure you already do. You just don't care, as long as the money keeps flowing from the GEO Group's generous coffers.


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