A Florida court has ruled for the second time that the state Department of Corrections improperly circumvented the legislative process to privatize prison health care. Last October, some state legislators had attempted to privatize the state’s prison health care by folding the funding into budget proviso language. That attempt was held unconstitutional by a Florida judge, who said the legislature could only do so through a separate bill. The legislature then proposed a separate bill in February 2012 that, unsurprisingly, could not garner enough votes to pass.
But that failure wouldn’t satisfy legislators bent on outsourcing the state’s prison health care to private corporations. This time, they were able to include in the legislature-reviewed appropriations bill funding for private prisons in one South Florida region. Seeking to also privatize prison health care in three other regions, the Department of Corrections sought additional funding from the state’s Legislative Budget Commission rather than the full legislature. The LBC granted funds for all four regions and increased the budget from 41 million to 58 million — a move also struck down by Leon County Judge Jackie Fulford:
Whether to privatize some or all of the state’s prison operations is a significant policy decision. Under existing law, the legislature weighs in on this policy decision through its appropriations power. Where, as here, there is no specific appropriation for privatizing health services in Regions I, II or III, it cannot be said that such a significant action has been approved or authorized. [...]
Authorizing and funding privatizing health care services in Florida’s prisons is the prerogative of the full legislature and not that of the Legislative Budget Commission.
Even at the time of the vote, some members of the Legislative Budget Commission questioned the legality of expanding funding for private prison health care. But the state nonetheless entered into a contract with Corizon Healthcare to serve those three regions, and forged ahead with notices to nearly 2,000 state workers who would be laid off as a result of the move.
Privatization of health care for nearly 100,000 inmates was billed as a way to cut costs, in part because prison officials anticipated the private companies would offer less benefits to their workers. But studies in other states have shown that private prisons actually cost the state more, while enabling “inhumane” conditions and prompting allegations of preventable deaths. Privatization of the prison system has also incentivized private corporations to lobby for policies that incarcerate more Americans. The United States already has the world’s highest incarceration rate.