The leaders of Florida's prison system believe work release is one of the best ways to help inmates succeed in the outside world.
But funding the nation's third-largest prison system has been challenging in recent years given state budget woes. To save money, the state has turned a quarter of Florida's 32 work release facilities over to private operators, such as Goodwill Industries-Suncoast.
Six more could become private by year's end — saving taxpayers $4.4 million, according to Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews.
Prison officials say it's not just about the money. They believe local organizations have expertise that state government doesn't.
Crews, in an interview earlier this year, said that even though correctional officers are hard-working and professional "they don't have the expertise in job placement" compared to local groups with networks of community contacts.
But keeping down costs is clearly part of the state's work release strategy. The department's average per-inmate cost is $42.24 per day. Work release centers averaged $29.29 per inmate per day. The lower cost is "primarily due to reduced need for security and support staff, inmate responsibility for personal and health care costs and inmate employment in the community during the day," according to state bid documents. During the fiscal year that ended May 31, Goodwill was being paid $21.36 per inmate per day.
The state is now seeking bidders to take over work release centers at a cost "not to exceed $21 per day."
Barney Bishop of the Smart Justice Alliance said he believes privatization is good because "99 times out of 100 the private sector is going to do better than the public sector."