Blackwater prison deal saves DOC jobs, but labor 'really uncomfortable'
Senate Democratic leader Al Lawson just announced in his caucus meeting that about 2,000 Department of Corrections prison jobs would be saved under a compromise hammered out last night. Details were scarce.
"The $20 million taken form DOC will be restored. That will protect about 2,000 jobs," Lawson said. "That compromise is going to protect the jobs that we have." Lawson said the deal/amendment would stop the closure of a public prison. He also suggested Senate Democrats wouldn't fight or debate too long because they want to amend the budget and then vote it out of the chamber today, instead of hosting the final vote tomorrow.
AFL-CIO president Mike Williams sounded alarmed. He said he was unaware of the compromise. And he wasn't warm and fuzzy about what he heard.
"This leads toward continued privatization," Williams said. "I can't stand up for any move toward privatization ... I'm really uncomfortable with what's being proposed ... I've got questions about the whole Blackwater deal that's being proposed ... We're really uncomfortable without having any meaningful review."
As he reviewed the amendment, Williams said the deal was a giveaway that gave GEO Group "$1 million a bed" to operate the Blackwater River Correctional Institution in Milton in Santa Rosa County. Photo of the complex at left is courtesy of TEAM Santa Rosa Economic Development Council.
Lawson said he did the best he could at the last moment, and at the least, this deal ensures that people "in a tizzy about losing their jobs" could rest at ease as the Senate and House prepare to conference over their budgets.
Sen. Nan Rich of Weston asked a simple question about a $20 million expenditure connected to the Blackwater deal: "Where's the money coming from?" A staffer said it could be federal stimulus money, intended for Medicaid, that's being shifted out of the health budget.
Tampa Democrat Arthenia Joyner pointed out that the Criminal Justice budget committee never recommended the Blackwater deal, which was put in the Senate at the last minute by Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, who is sponsoring two more amendments to undo some of what he did last week.
Joyner said the private prisons get to "cherry pick" healthy prisoners, so they "can do more with less" because they don't have to spend so much to take care of inmates.
James Baiardi, a Police Benevolent Association union member who works at the South Florida Reception Center, said, "It was not the best outcome we would have liked. ... We think it's unfair that when the cuts came down they went on the backs of corrections officers. We've got a tough job out there. Two months ago, I got stuck with a needle, and for the next five years of my life, my future is up in the air."
The House doesn't have the same Blackwater deal. Gov. Charlie Crist, who sure would like PBA's strong backing as he runs for the U.S. Senate, might also quash the deal.
Marc Caputo, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau