Will “Smart Justice” in Florida Mean Prison Privatization?

An outgrowth of Associated Industries of Florida’s Smart Justice Council – the Florida Smart Justice Alliance - is touting itself as “the latest development in justice reform advocacy in Florida.” Their stated goals: 1) Make Florida’s communities safer, 2) Save the taxpayers money, and 3) Hold offenders accountable while providing the tools for them to live law-abiding lives.

To accomplish these goals, members of the alliance are urging Florida lawmakers to divert nonviolent offenders to private prisons for substance abuse and mental health rehabilitation, arguing that privately operated prisons can house and rehabilitate prisoners for much cheaper, thus saving taxpayer money, reducing recidivism, and improving public safety.

Private prisons across the country, however, which lack accountability and profit daily from each and every prisoner within their walls, have a shameful track record of poor management, ineffective efforts to reduce recidivism, and inhumane treatment of prisoners, often resulting in violence and even death.

The Florida Smart Justice Alliance’s efforts are problematic to many, including members from the Teamsters union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which both represent correctional officers and other prison employees.  According to an article by Bill Kaczor of the Associated Press, former Democratic Senator Ron Silver of Teamsters told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, “We’re not against reform, but we must make public safety a top priority and not allow for risky experiments advocated by parties seeking to benefit from the state’s treasury.”

Also troubling to opponents of prison privatization is the complex web of lobbyists, campaign contributions, and lawmakers who are instrumental in passing legislation that can ensure private prison beds remain occupied, which means guaranteed and bigger profits for private prison corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group.

Unfortunately, that may be the case for the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

Their efforts to expand private prisons are certainly not the first in Florida.  In 2012, legislation that would have privatized more than two dozen state prisons was struck down in the Senate.  Fortunately, critics of the bill were wary of the argument of cost savings after a report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability cautioned against it.

Though proponents of privatization argue that private prisons cut costs and save the public money, numerous reports have shown this is simply not the case.  Rather, in many cases, reports have shown that private prisons are more costly than publicly run facilities.

If reports on private prisons consistently point to poor management, unjust treatment of prisoners, and failed attempts at reducing recidivism and cutting costs, we should all be wondering why the Florida Smart Justice Alliance believes privatization is the way to accomplish their goals.  As far as we can see, private prisons have only done the opposite.

Judging from the facts, we believe privatization is NOT the answer.