As Private Prisons Enrich Lawmakers, Florida Legislature Pushes Massive Prison Privatization Plan

Last year, a Florida judge struck down Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) plan to privatize much of the state’s prison system because of a flaw in the way it was enacted. Nevertheless, Florida lawmakers are now reviving this ill-conceived plan:

Dozens of correctional officers shouted “Shame! Shame!” as the Senate Budget Committee voted Wednesday to revive a hotly debated budget-cutting plan to privatize state prisons in 18 South Florida counties. . . .

“Come work a shift with us … come do what we do every day,” prison officers called out to Senate Budget Committee Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, after his committee voted 14–4 for a bill (SB 2308) that restores the massive privatization plan the Legislature passed in budget language last year. Sgt. Thomas Johnson of Marion Correctional Institution challenged Alexander to show up at a prison unannounced and take a tour with rank-and-file guards to see what they face on the job.

Private prisons have a well-documented record of failing to save taxpayers money. An exhaustive 2007 study conducted by the University of Utah concluded that “the value of moving to a privately managed system is questionable,” while many services are often inferior at private facilities as compared to public ones.


But while the taxpayers may not see much return on their investment, others stand to reap millions of dollars. Last year, a report issued by the Justice Policy Institute found that private prisons spent millions on lobbying to help “make money through harsh policies and longer sentences.” In 2010, the two largest private prison companies had a combined $2.9 billion in revenues, Think Progress reported.

The corporations that own and operate private prisons are not the only ones who benefit financially either. An examination of campaign finance records shows that GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, was one of the 15 largest contributors to the Florida Republican Party in 2010, and gave over $11,000 in contributions directly to the campaigns of 14 of the 20 members of the Budget Committee that approved the bill, by a vote of 14–4. Since 2006, GEO Group has spent a total of $1.3 million in campaign contributions in Florida alone.

The political investments private prison companies are making are not limited to Florida, either. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer accepted at least $60,000 from people directly connected to the Corrections Corporation of America. And in Pennsylvania, a judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison after it was discovered he had been “selling” convictions of young offenders to several private juvenile detention centers, which profit mightily from heightened incarceration rates. One victim was sentenced to three months in one of the centers for mocking an assistant vice principal on MySpace.