Prison Privatization Bills Move Forward by James L. Rosica

Posted: January 28, 2012 in News and politics

TALLAHASSEE | With its main sponsor saying he’s confident of millions of dollars in savings every year, a Senate committee Monday cleared two bills allowing for the privatization of prisons in South Florida.

The rules committee approved the bills (SB 2036 and SB 2038) on party-line votes after more than three hours of debate and public comment.

Dozens of people spoke against the bills, telling senators privatization would put state employees out of work and will reduce public safety.

Committee vice-chair J..D Alexander, R-Lake Wales, careful to use the word “competition” instead of privatization, said he expects $22-45 million a year in savings.

“From my standpoint, competition makes things improve,” said Alexander, later adding, “We have to balance the greater good.”

That came as cold comfort to Amanda Abers. She said she moved from Minnesota a year ago to work as a corrections officer at Vero Beach’s Indian River Correctional Institution. That facility is slated for closure.

“I’m going to have to move out of the state to survive,” she told the committee. “I want you guys to think about that. You’re putting me out on the street along with close to 200 other people, plus their spouses, their kids.”

Last year, the Legislature passed a South Florida prison-privatization plan but the state was sued by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that formerly represented corrections officers. The Teamsters now represent those employees.

Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford of Tallahassee eventually ruled that the state’s plan is unconstitutional because it was approved as part of the annual budget and not as a stand-alone law.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is appealing Fulford’s decision.

Separately, the Department of Corrections announced this month that it was shutting down seven other state prisons and four work camps, all of which employ nearly 1,300 people, because of a decreasing prison population.

Copyright © 2012 TheLedger

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