gavel_2.jpgTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A Tallahassee judge has ordered the state to stop moving ahead with the initial steps to privatize 29 prison facilities in South Florida.

The privatization itself was being challenged and Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ordered a stop to it last month. But when the state appealed that ruling the Department of Corrections decided to go ahead and select companies in case it ultimately won the lawsuit.

Late Friday, though, Fulford ordered the state's prison agency to cease all actions relating to the procurement process.

Fulford had ruled the Legislature violated the Florida Constitution by putting the privatization plan in the state budget.

A spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association, which represents prison guards, says prison officers “can breathe a sigh of relief.''