Florida Prison Privatization Bill Criticized For Less Than 1% Cost Savings, Loss Of 3,800 State Jobs

Today, the Private Corrections Institute (PCI), a Tallahassee-based non-profit organization, sharply criticized efforts by the Florida Legislature to privatize 27 state correctional facilities, which would achieve estimated cost savings of less than 1% of the state’s prison budget.

PCI noted the proposed prison privatization plan was an “unprecedented expansion” that has not been attempted in any other state, and would result in the termination of about 3,800 state corrections employees. The private prison legislation is currently pending in the House (HB7083) as well as the Senate (SB2038).

According to an analysis by the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, the prison privatization plan would result in an estimated $14.5 million annual cost savings, though “The total cost savings from privatization cannot be determined definitively” until the contract bids have been certified by the Auditor General’s office. The Senate Budget Committee estimated savings at $16.5 million per year.

The annual budget for the Florida Department of Corrections, which is responsible for the operation and oversight of all prisons in the state, is about $2.2 billion. Therefore, the anticipated savings from the prison privatization expansion, if accurate, would be less than 1% of the state’s total corrections budget.

“With an unemployment rate in Florida of almost 10 percent, putting 3,800 state employees out of work to achieve less than 1% budgetary cost savings is a poor trade-off,” stated PCI president Alex Friedmann. “The legislature should be in the business of creating good jobs for citizens who are looking for work, not firing thousands of state employees who would then be rehired by private prison companies at lower wages.”

In a February 1 letter addressed to state lawmakers, Friedmann said the anticipated savings assume “there are no cost increases at the privatized prisons in future years,” and would be “at the expense of terminating around 3,800 state employees and privatizing state prisons on a scale never before attempted in the history of the United States.”

The Private Corrections Institute and 16 non-profit and religious organizations issued a joint letter on January 31 opposing the prison privatization legislation in Florida. Other signatories to the letter included the ACLU of Florida, Advocare, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), Critical Resistance, Florida Justice Institute, Human Rights Defense Center, In the Public Interest, Justice Strategies, National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc., Ohio Justice Policy Center, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, The Sentencing Project, Southern Center for Human Rights, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, United Church of Christ/Justice and Witness Ministries, and United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society.

The prison privatization bill was debated on Tuesday on the Senate floor and postponed; it is being taken up again by the Senate on Wednesday, February 1.

“Throwing thousands of state employees out of work at a time of high unemployment in Florida to possibly obtain 1% cost savings in the state’s prison budget is simply wrong,” Friedmann said. “Florida citizens who agree need to immediately contact their state legislators to voice their opposition to SB2038 and HB7083.”