Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Public safety

Prison privatization plan resurfaces in Florida Senate

TALLAHASSEE — After being rebuffed by a judge for its effort to privatize several prisons because of the way lawmakers went about it, the Legislature will try again to shed several prisons, this time doing it in statute.

The Senate Rules Committee on Friday quietly released a proposal and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to discuss the proposed committee bill (SPB 7172), which would require the Department of Corrections to privatize all prisons and other correctional facilities in 18 counties in the southern half of the state.

Private companies wishing to bid on the prisons — which could go to multiple companies or in one big contract to just one company — must be able to find 7 percent cost savings to the state to get the contract.

The Legislature passed nearly the same measure last year, but it did it in the fine print of the state budget known as proviso language, rather than passing a bill that went through the committee process. That violated the Florida Constitution, Judge Jackie Fulford ruled in September. That decision is on appeal.

The bill would appear to take care of that concern, at least, though it won't appease the critics of privatization in general. The head of the Teamsters Union local that represents corrections officers said Friday that the state is rushing into a wholesale privatization effort without thinking it through or hearing from everyone who has an interest in the issue.

"There has to be a comprehensive study — this makes a tremendous impact on the different communities … we kind of think this is a rush to judgment," said Ken Wood, acting president of Teamsters Local 2011.

The measure's release comes a day after the Department of Corrections announced it would close seven prisons around the state by the middle of the year. Those seven prisons, and four additional work camps also slated for closure, wouldn't be included in the privatization plan.

The bill would require the department to privatize all prison facilities, including annexes, prisons, and work release centers in Manatee, Hardee, Indian River, Okeechobee, Highlands, St. Lucie, DeSoto, Sarasota, Charlotte, Glades, Martin, Palm Beach, Hendry, Lee, Collier, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

That would include several prisons classified as "major institutions" by the Corrections Department, including Everglades Correctional Institution, Homestead C.I., Dade C.I., and the South Florida Reception Center, all in Miami-Dade County; Charlotte C.I. in Charlotte County; Martin C.I. in Martin County; Hardee C.I. in Hardee County; and Okeechobee C.I., in Okeechobee County.

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