Bi-partisan support kills prison privatization sweetheart deal in Florida

On Valentine's Day the Florida state Senate killed Senate Bill 2038: Privatization of Correctional Facilities, which would have instigated the largest mass privatization of prisons in the nation's history. Private corrections corporations gave Florida lawmakers almost $900,000 in the last campaign cycle. Florida lawmakers pulled out all the stops - trying to bypass both public and media scrutiny - to get it passed. In an extraordinary move, nine Republicans broke ranks, defied their leadership and joined with their Democratic colleagues to stop the bill.

SB 2038 was fast tracked through the Senate. Despite powerful testimony against the bill in the Rules Committee, it was rushed through to the Budget Committee - circumventing the committees that would ask the hard questions about this legislation.  Senate President Mike Haridopolos thought he had the votes he needed.  But a second reading saw a handful from his own party questioning the bill.  And it all fell apart.

Haridopolos fired Senator Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, from his chairmanship of the budget panel in charge of prisons because Fasano dared to suggest an amendment that would require real study and real thought about this unprecedented move. Fasano publicly stated that SB2038 was payback to GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, which flooded the last campaign cycle with so much corporate money.  And, he called Haridopolos a bully.

The once-smug Senate President scrambled for support, scrounging for the 21-senate votes he needed in order to deliver to the multi-million-dollar private prison corporations what had been promised - and paid for.

And then on Valentine's Day, senator after senator stood up with courage and tenacity and voted "no".  They stood up for public safety and against human freedom becoming a commodity to be bought and sold.  They stood against the lobbying of a multi-billion dollar industry and they stood with the four thousand state workers who would have lost their jobs in the privatization. The bill was defeated.

On the same day, the CCA, Corrections Corporation of America, through its Corrections Investment Initiative, offered to buy Florida prisons in a public-private partnership in which CCA would assume ownership and management of existing facilities, with guaranteed occupancy rates and payments.  The ink was barely dry on the defeat of SB 2038, when the industry found and offered a new scheme to profit on incarceration in Florida.

The bill is dead.  But the movement to expand into the prison market is alive and well, with offers to buy prisons and proffer other services associated with these facilities; such as food services, transportation, health services, mental health services, electronic surveillance - and, in one state, the infrastructure for holding and willingness to engage in executions.

Grassroots Leadership, along with a coalition - faith based groups, labor, small non-profits and researchers - came together and dismantled the private prison sweetheart deal.