In Depth: State Corrections Boss On Prison Privatization
July 27, 2011
The mass privatization of prisons in the southern third of the state should at least temporarily stop the drive to hand prisons over to corporations, the head of the Department of Corrections said Tuesday.
“I think in terms of private prisons, this is as far as Florida should go,” Corrections Secretary Ed Buss said in an interview. “This wasn’t my decision, this wasn’t Gov. Scott’s decision, this was the Legislature’s decision.”
Buss talked about the privatization drive a day after the state released a request for proposals calling for a five-year contract with a single bidder to run 29 facilities associated with 11 South Florida correctional institutes. The privatization proposals are in line with the budget approved by the Legislature during its spring session, though one of the state’s main law enforcement unions has sued to try to block the move.
That contract should allow the state to assess how a widespread system of private prisons would work in comparison to public facilities, Buss said. That would include a look at how well private prisons work to reduce recidivism, one of Buss’ top goals as corrections secretary.
“This will provide some competition so that the public and private sector can go head-to-head,” he said. “But until — and it takes three to five years to get any meaningful data on recidivism — I wouldn’t recommend any future private prisons until we get the data and we see if it does actually work.”
Under the budget approved by lawmakers, Buss’ agency could have bid out the privatization contract in several pieces. But the secretary said he believes taxpayers will get a better deal if corporations like the GEO Group, Utah-based Management & Training Corporation and Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America are forced to strive for a single deal.
“It’ll make for fierce competition,” he said. “You get nothing for second place.”
Buss also said giving the contract to a single company will make it easier to measure a company’s performance, since inmates often move from prison to prison, and help corrections employees who decide to stay in South Florida an easier time finding jobs and earning promotions.
As for employees who want to remain in the state system, Buss said they could move to a job in other parts of the state. About 3,000 positions are open, he said, part of an effort by the agency to make sure it could accommodate employees who are willing to move. That should alleviate some concerns about whether privatization will result in mass layoffs, Buss said.
“I think that we’ll be able to take the majority of staff who want to move,” he said. “The other staff that want to stay, I think they’re going to have ample opportunity to move on with the company.”
The Florida Police Benevolent Association has filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court, looking to block the changes and saying they “would result in the loss of jobs, job security and job benefits for numerous state correctional officers who are members of the … PBA.”
Buss also explained an order cracking down on pornographic materials in state prisons. Buss, who until coming to Florida oversaw state prisons in Indiana, said the Sunshine State was not alone in allowing inmates access to the materials, but that he wanted to put an end to it.
“I don’t think sex offenders, rapists, child molesters should have access to pornography,” Buss said.
He also suggested that even some inmates are likely uncomfortable about seeing sex offenders look at explicit materials.
“It would give them a lot of pause to know that they were viewing materials like this,” Buss said. “I don’t think my female staff working the prisons should be subjected to those type of materials, as well.”
By Brandon Larrabee
The News Service of Florida
Pictured: Century Correctional Institution. NorthEscambia.com file photos.