Cause for Concern in Florida’s Private Prisons

"prison guard tower"
"prison guard tower" by Rennet Stowe on flickr

Cause for Concern

Last month, investigators from Florida’s Department of Corrections came to the South Bay CF, run by the GEO Group, to conduct an inspection of the facility.  While this should not have made headlines, it did becausethe investigators could not get into the prison.  After repeatedly using the call box and even shining a flashlight directly into the security camera at the gate, investigators were unable to contact anyone inside the prison to let them in.  Apparently, there were no guards in the control room or monitoring the perimeter of the facility to let them in.  What’s even worse is that the Florida DOC doesn’t even have authority to oversee the prison – that’s handled by the Department of Management services, which apparently lets the GEO Group conduct its own internal investigations of staff misconduct.  Because who would want a department of corrections to oversee something like corrections? 

So the investigators filed a report, and the DMS released their own (heavily redacted) report about the incident, but no one has given a firm answer yet as to why staff were unresponsive for at least 20 minutes of the investigators’ trying to get their attention.  This is very concerning, considering the state is pushing hard to privatize the correctional services of 18 counties.  There are some very high benchmarks in the request the state has put out though, such a mandating 7% savings and forcing the private vendor who wins the contract to provide programs proven to reduce recidivism.  I have absolutely zero faith in any private for-profit company to meet these benchmarks, since the industry has steadfastly failed to live up to similar expectations throughout its history.

I’ve written extensively on the failures of private prisons to provide programming and offer cost-savings.  But Florida’s politicians need look no further than their own state to see that privatizing correctional services doesn’t save money.  Because Jackson County, which recently had been seeking to outsource prison healthcare, recently decided to continue to have the government provide healthcare.  Why?  Because the county will save MILLIONS of dollars per year in doing so. That’s right – it would cost millions more for a private company to provide healthcare to prisoners than the government.

Is there any question anymore that Ric Scott, JD Alexander, and all the other Florida politicians looking to privatize prisons aren’t merely corporate shills?

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