Last Saturday, the Florida GOP-led legislature finalized the state’s $69.7 billion budget — and business won big. In this case, the victor was the private prison industry as the GOP’s budget deal includes — at Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) suggestion — “one of the biggest prison privatization programs” in a state with “the third largest state prison system” in the U.S. Indeed, “no other state has sought to privatize so many lock-ups at any one time.”
This lucrative victory for the private prison industry is not surprising given how much they paid for it. As ThinkProgress reported last week, the prison industry — which includes the nation’s second largest private corrections company GEO Group — has doled out hundreds of thousands to Scott and the GOP in Florida since 2003. But not all Republicans are happy about the undue influence. State Rep. Paige Kreegel (R) and state Sen. Mike Fasano (R) both defied GOP leadership by voting against the bill because they viewed it as an abdication of government responsibility for public safety:
— Kreegel: “The real reason that people bad together and form governments is to protect good people from bad ones. That is it. That is the core mission of government,” he said Friday before the vote. “As a core mission that cannot be sub-letted or contracted out to a private entity. When we shirk our core mission, we lose our legitimacy to govern. For these reasons, I am voting against this bill.”
— Fasano: “It’s unprecedented in the United States,” said Fasano, who heads the Senate budget committee with oversight of prisons. “I’m a conservative Republican that believes in privatizing certain parts of government services but we should never privatize public safety.”
There’s good reason to bristle at the bad idea. By shifting $600 million to firms who will now run correctional facilities and probation services for nearly 20,000 prisoners in 18 counties, the private takeover will cut at least 1,700 jobs in the state prison system. What’s more, Fasano points out the private prisons’ promise to save $40 million annually are “unconvincing and undocumented.” Indeed, the history of private prisons across the country suggest they boast little in the way of cost-saving.
Their history instead shows a greater focus on their bottom line. “[T]hey just don’t have incentives to rehabilitate,” said ACLU National Prison Project’s David Shapiro. “The more crime there is, and the longer sentences are, the more business private prisons get.” GEO Group’s CEO, in fact, celebrated Scott’s deal as “one of the largest opportunities that we’ve ever seen in the history of our industry” and suggested it could add “several hundreds of millions” to GEO Group’s annual revenues.
Despite its dubious motivations and results, the prison industry’s influence is shaping many Republican budget plans across the country. Ohio, New Hampshire, Texas, and New Mexico are all considering outsourcing public safety to private prisons. Not only is Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) pushing to privatize prisons, he even hired a prison industry official to be his Director of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Given the history, one wonders if the fruit of these plans will bear profits for private prisons at the expense of the public?