Fla. May Privatize Prisons
(04/01/2011)

TALLAHASEE, Fla. The Florida Senate has inserted language into its newly proposed budget that seeks to give corporations the chance to run correctional facilities and probation services in 18 counties in what some say could initiate a massive private takeover of public prisons.

The plan, which would shift nearly $600 million to private firms, surprised correctional officers, their unions and even the head of the Senates Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, Mike Fasano, who said his committee opposed privatizing prisons when Gov. Rick Scotts aides proposed it.

The plans architect, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, said the proposal aimed to do more with less and reduce the size of government. He estimated prison privatization could result in a 7 percent savings to the state.

The budget language does not appear to favor any one vendor although a leading contender is Boca Raton-based GEO Group, whose healthcare arm, GEO Care, has contributed at least $126,000 to state parties and candidates since 2009.

The Houses proposed budget takes a far more measured approach to privatizing probation and prisons. It calls for a private operator to run the facilities and services in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Those two counties are included in the Senates plan, which seeks to privatize services all the way north to Manatee County.

While the two chambers differ in their approaches and the amount they budget, both proposals, as well as the governors, seek to balance the budget by privatizing more government services, deeply cutting healthcare and reducing state worker benefits by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The House proposes spending $66.5 billion next budget year, which starts July 1, while the Senate proposes $69.8 billion, a difference of $3.3 billion.

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