Massive Prison Privatization Voided by Judge in Florida
By Maggie Clark, Staff Writer
The Florida Constitution provides that any legislation must be limited to one subject. The legislature made the changes "by provisio," or by inclusion in an appropriations act, rather than as a separate bill that the members could either approve or reject. This, Judge Fulford wrote, is unconstitutional.
The Police Benevolent Association had hoped for a full debate on the plan during the legislative session, which ended in May, The New York Times reported . Ken Kopczynski, a legislative affairs assistant at the Police Benevolent Association said the privatization was attached to the appropriations bill because it would not have passed on its own. "I don't think they had the votes, I think it would have been killed in committee," he said.
But by including the privatization plan in a spending bill, legislative leaders all but ruled out debate on the measure. It was the Benevolent Association that filed the suit on which Judge Fulford made her ruling. The state has not filed to appeal the decision as of Monday afternoon, but if there is an appeal, the injunction will be lifted until a higher court rules on the privatization, said Kopczynski.
The plan would have privatized prisons in 18 South Florida counties and would have been one of the largest privatization efforts of its kind in the nation's history. The bidding process for firms that wanted to run the prisons had already begun, and bids had been submitted by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison operator, and GEO Group, a Boca Raton-based prison firm and a campaign contributor to Republican Governor Rick Scott.
In addition to the Police Benevolent suit, the Teamsters union has filed a complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission about Scott's relationship to private prison companies. The Tallahassee Democrat reports that "The Teamsters said GEO contributed $829,665 to political parties in the past election cycle, while CCA gave $138,494 to politicians in Florida." The Teamsters claim that "private prison companies bought themselves a golden business opportunity with cash donations to the political parties and Scott's inauguration gala."
The Florida prison privatization dispute is at the center of a national debate over the costs of prisons and how best to appropriate public safety dollars. The New York Times reported earlier this year on privatization efforts in Arizona, where the Department of Corrections found that the state's private prisons cost the state about $1,600 more per inmate per year than a publicly operated prison. The University of Utah did a cost-benefit analysis of privatizing prisons in 2007 and determined that the costs of public and private prisons were essentially the same.