Florida Law Enforcement Organization Sues to Block Privatization of 30 Prisons
Here’s an interesting lawsuit: The Florida Police Benevolent Association has filed suit to enjoin Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to privatize 30 prisons across South Florida. Those prisons currently hold about 20% of the state prison population. The Florida Legislature mandated the switch in the 2011-12 state budget as a cost-cutting measure (it’s actually not clear that private prisons cost less, BTW), with the Corrections Department under orders to have vendors in place by the first of January 2012. The Miami Herald reports:
The PBA suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, says the state has not conducted a cost study to determine whether privatization would save money.
It also says that the state failed to comply with a law requiring an agency to conduct a “business case” to justify any outsourcing in excess of $10 million.
Separate from its lawsuit, the correctional officers’ union has requested extensive public records from the prison system, including a list of every factor the state uses to determine the cost of running a prison.
Some context: First, according to a recent analysis by finance blogger Mike Konczal at Rortybomb, Florida is not currently a high user of private prisons relative to other states, with under 10% of its prisoners in private facilities. But Konczal hypothesizes that “once a state flips to using private contractors, they use them a lot” — so the Florida PBA is probably not wrong to worry that flipping 30 prisons could be the harbinger of more privatization to come.
Second, perhaps worth noting, Florida’s corrections officers are organized statewide along with other law enforcement officials (police, highway patrol, etc.) in the Florida Police Benevolent Association. In contrast, in California, the prison guards have their own (powerful) lobby, the CCPOA. (As, for that matter, do the California Highway Patrol, the police, etc.) I’m wondering if that’s one reason why the Florida corrections officers didn’t have the clout in Tallahassee to stop this budget provision on the front end. As most of my knowledge of Florida politics derives from Carl Hiaasen novels, however, I’d welcome insight from any Florida-based readers I might have.
(Third, I guess this would be the part where I weigh in with my expertise on Florida government contracting law and whether this lawsuit actually has any chance of going anywhere. Lacking any such expertise, I’d be curious to hear from any readers who might have some — and/or if anyone’s found a copy of the complaint, which I don’t see at the Miami Herald article or the Florida PBA website.)
Minor footnote: Something else worth noting, while we’re doing some cross-state comparisons, is simply the number of prisons involved. Florida uses 63 prisons for about 102,000 inmates. California, with a little over 1.5 times Florida’s prison population last time I checked, has only 33 state prisons total — and, accordingly, they’re huge, which is one reason they’ve historically been difficult to manage. (And they’re designed to be huge — it’s not just that they’re holding two to three times the numbers they were designed for, though that’s also the case.)