While the community sleeps, Correction Corporation of America and its counterparts are steadily building private, profit-producing prisons. So do not be fooled by the temporary setback that occurred when the ACLU and the prison guards union forced the ultra-conservative for-profit advocates in Tallahassee to return to the drawing board.
In July, the courts ruled that legislators could not privatize 29 state prisons to add to the seven already being managed for profit. However, with such a windfall profit potential, profiteers are not about to give up. They know that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Take a trip along Route 41 leading to the Everglades and make the first left just beyond the Miccosukee casino. A ways back in those woods you will see a new construction. It is a private prison — not built by the state. It is the initial investment of a corporation but it is designed to incarcerate state prisoners.
So, in a real sense, the ACLU and the prison guards union have only the illusion of a victory. (I have always known that big business holds veto power over every endeavor that is not fully backed by an articulation of a clear majority of the masses).
You may ask why the impetus to privatize Florida’s prisons. The answer is so very easy. This is a very safe and an extremely lucrative market with little or absolutely no financial risk. Consider the following:
• Florida has the third largest prison population in the country.
• According to a Pew Center study, Florida is ahead of all other states in meting out the longest prison terms.
• Florida spends an extra $1.4 billion per year because of those longer prison terms.
• Less that 1 percent of Florida prison inmates are granted parole yearly.
• Florida has one of the most stringent minimum mandatory sentencing laws in the nation, including non-capital offense cases.
The profiteers are demanding a guarantee of 95 percent capacity to ensure that their per diem charge to the state yields a hefty profit. They also select for their prisons the inmates who are not high
maintenance, leaving the others for the state. They have systematically and lucratively supported legislators who are now pretty much compelled to support them.
The argument for privatization rests on the premise that handing over the prisons to private corporations will result in substantial savings for the state. Yet, I have not seen a single cost-benefit study that shows that the “savings” will be above a lowly 7 percent. And the hidden costs are indeterminate.
To begin with, there is the problem of manpower. Whereas the state ostensibly, at least, hires, promotes and retains based on merit, a private employer has no such constraints. Remember, Florida is among the “right to work” states. Hiring and firing by private employers can be whimsical, meaning that even if a person is hired there is very little protection against being fired – completely obliterating job security. There is no protection against cronyism and nepotism.
All of this is further compounded by the move to demolish unions, the only protection that individuals and groups have to exert themselves in labor disputes.
What is surprising is that the entire law enforcement community, including the courts and the law schools, have not organized a campaign against this blatant attempt of profiteers to exploit the criminal justice system. Everyone has to know that when profits are involved cutting corners is inevitable.
The safety of the community, as well as the general welfare of the inmates, is ultimately the responsibility of the elected officials. At the end of the day, if things go wrong, the corporations can close shop and move on to other lucrative ventures.
Do the citizens of Florida want to gamble with prison privatization? Has there been a referendum to determine this? If not, it seems to me that one needs to be initiated.
Gilbert L. Raiford is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State.
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org