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. file photos.


4 Responses to “In Depth: State Corrections Boss On Prison Privatization”

  1. laisefaire on July 29th, 2011 10:18 am

    This is a non issue. The secretary is making a poor statement since pornography is already banned in all Florida prisons and is contraband for any inmate to have. As for privatization, the state is turning over almost another 20+ percent to private companies. This will give them effectively 25 to 30% of the Department of Corrections. That is like giving 1-2 people this much control of a company. So in the grand scheme of numbers the state will “POTENTIALLY” save $11 Million dollars. To do this they will ACTUALLY SPENT OVER $32 Million dollars. WHERE ARE THE SAVINGS? Private companies will pay less and offer less benefits. Many staff will transfer or retire. The ones remaining will be doing the same job for less until they can no longer afford to do it. There will be even higher staff turn-over and fewer experienced officers with less training. Public Safety is at risk. The legislation did this region because it is far from Tallahassee. No one to protest. Remember North Florida. These Legislators and Governor do not have your best interest in mind, only their Wallets.

  2. concerned floridian on July 28th, 2011 7:33 pm

    You need to worry more about public safety at this point than porn in prison. I do not believe that they should have it either. My concern is the safety of the public that will be provided by private prisons. These private corporations have prisons in other states. Look at GEO corporations record in those other states. It is not good, escapes, riots, staff assaulted.

  3. chris on July 28th, 2011 7:09 am

    I am glad I left working for the state a couple of years ago. The county is ten times better. Working for the state was garbage. In my opinion.

  4. dad on July 28th, 2011 5:46 am

    So inmates have access to porn? I had no idea. Who provides it for them, us tax payers? However they get it it is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. They are there to be punished not catered too.

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