Corrections proposal raises idea of further privatization

in Uncategorized by

A proposal from the Department of Corrections floats the idea of further privatization if budget cuts are needed, but doesn’t specify which facilities might be turned over to private companies to come up with $6.4 million in savings.

The agency’s idea is included as one of a menu of cuts provided as part of its annual legislative budget request and might not ultimately be a part of the spending plan that lawmakers approve in the spring. But it comes after years of fights in both the Legislature and the courts about whether to allow for-profit vendors to assume greater responsibility for the state’s prison system.

“In an effort to maximize the state’s resources during difficult economic times, the department proposes privatizing additional facilities,” the request says simply.

Ann Howard, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an email that the agency hasn’t necessarily targeted specific facilities.

“We do not have a list when it comes to privatizing,” she said.

The department could get rid of its pretrial intervention program aimed at offenders involved in relatively minor crimes. That is expected to save $2.3 million, Howard said. And the agency floats a 5 percent cut in funding for prisons that have already been privatized.

“At this point, this is all very early on and as you know, a fluid process,” she said.

In fact, Gov. Rick Scott is not expected to unveil his suggested budget blueprint until early next year. A final package will likely pass the Legislature at the end of the spring legislative session and will be signed by Scott after that.

The agency also asks for some increases in its main budget request, in some cases aimed at greater security for guards and inmates. The department is asking for almost $5.2 million to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.

Most of the money — an estimated $3 million — would go to increase camera surveillance at prisons in an effort to prevent sexual assaults. The funding would also provide money for training, inmate screening and “emotional support services” for inmates who are victimized.

“The decision to implement or not to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requirements involves weighing the resource related costs for full compliance against the 5% penalty assessed against Justice Department Grants for non-compliance,” the request says. “Additionally, the potential costs associated with liabilities, including litigation, assumed by the Department in the case of non-compliance may be greater than any costs incurred with implementation.”

A separate proposal includes more than $900,000 for “safe havens” to which employees could retreat in case they are attacked by inmates and “throw phones” that could be used in hostage negotiations.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.