Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's Happening in Florida

Lots of news from Florida recently, all of which I’ll try to compile into this one post. Most of this is at least a week old though. My bad.

First, I wanted to just link to two excellent editorials that appeared in the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. Both detail part of Florida’s long and sordid history with contracting out prison management to private companies. Among the issues that have plagued private prisons in Florida are a failure to properly document the costs of private prisons (resulting in disputes to claims of cost-savings), “lax contracts, spotty state oversight, overbilling by contractors and less legal accountability for abuses.”

The Herald editorial also documents a prison riot that occurred in 2004 at a private Florida juvenile center for girls. The girls rioted in response to cost-cutting measures taken by the private company in pursuit of maximizing profits. These measures included “increased number of lockdowns, cancellations of physical and outdoor activities, cancellation of educational classes, cancellation of various therapy sessions, cancellations of volunteer programs, cancellations of special activities.” The editorial then goes on to properly point out the influence that literally millions of dollars in lobbying money has had on the Florida legislature, which is now poised to further expand the state’s use of private prisons.

Next, here’s a link to a great interview with Dr. Michael Hallett which delves into the connection between the drug war, our country’s ridiculously disparate rates of incarceration, and the private prison industry. The disparities between incarceration rates of African Americans and Caucasians as a result of the “War on Drugs” is a topic for a different blog, but the connection between the rise in our rates of incarceration and the rise of private prisons is clear.
Dr. Hallett says, “If the question is why did we have to privatize prisons, the answer would be the drug war.”

Now, I’ll leave you on this last bit. The GEO Group donated $25,000 to the new Florida House Speaker’s Political Action Committee (PAC). The PAC, called the “Florida Freedom Committee” is one of those new super-PACs created after the Citizens United ruling that can pool corporate money for candidates or political causes. A bunch of major corporations seeking to expand their business interests in Florida donated generously to this PAC. This comes in addition to direct campaign and issue contributions by the GEO Group, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have spent lobbying. Clearly GEO is spending a lot of money wooing legislators in its home state, hoping to secure some political favor.

And it looks like all this money has been rather effective. The title link goes to an article detailing some of the recent developments in the Florida legislative session. Among them is the fact that the House caved to pressure from the Senate, but really from GEO’s influence through the above-mentioned PAC and other forms of monetary influence peddling, to go along with a plan to privatize the correctional work of 18 counties in the bottom half of the state. This would privatize as many as 18,000 more prison beds in the state.

The Senate Budget Chief, JD Alexander, has apparently become much more confident in his claims of cost-savings. Recently, he was touting this plan as an experiment to determine whether cost-savings could be achieved (albeit a fucking stupid experiment, but an experiment nonetheless). Now he “has insisted that the shift could save at least 7 percent in operating expenses at each facility turned private.” That’s an incredible conclusion to come to with absolutely no evidence to support it and a great deal of evidence that runs counter to that claim. I guess Republicans will just never stop lying to their constituents when it serves the interests of their corporate sugar daddies.


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