Judge To Weigh Florida Prison Health Privatization

May 24, 2012

Eight months after a judge tossed out a controversial prison-privatization plan, attorneys will argue next week about the constitutionality of a state decision to contract with companies to provide inmate health care.

Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll will hold a hearing Tuesday focusing on budget fine print that lawmakers approved last year directing the Florida Department of Corrections to privatize prison health services.

Opponents, including the Florida Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filed lawsuits early this year challenging the move. Like in the prison-privatization case, they argue that lawmakers improperly used the budget fine print — known as proviso language — to require the health care changes.

In a pre-hearing document filed last month, the nurses association said privatization of health services is a “substantial policy decision” that must be approved in a regular law, not in the annual budget.

“The (Florida) Constitution prohibits using appropriations acts to enact or change substantive law,” association attorneys wrote in the document.

But the state and two potential contractors dispute that lawmakers acted improperly and argue that the health-care issue is different from the prison-privatization plan that was found unconstitutional. They contend, in part, that the Department of Corrections already had the legal authority to contract for health services, regardless of the language added to the budget.

“Plaintiffs seek to prevent (the department) from entering into contracts for the provision of inmate health care by attacking the validity of proviso,” the state said in a court document this month. “However, the (department) has authority to enter into such contracts independent of the proviso.”

The department has already sought proposals from companies that would provide the services. Last month, Secretary Kenneth Tucker sent a letter to legislative leaders and the governor’s office recommending that Corizon, Inc., receive a contract for prisons in North and Central Florida, while Wexford Health Sources would receive a contract in South Florida.

Privatization is a highly controversial issue in state government, as workers fear they will lose jobs or see shrinking pay and benefits if private companies begin providing services. Supporters, including some key Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott, say privatization can save tens of millions of dollars for the state.

Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford last September blocked a legislative plan to privatize 29 prison facilities across the southern half of the state, ruling that lawmakers violated the constitution by making the changes in the budget fine print. The state has appealed Fulford’s decision, and a hearing is scheduled June 27 in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

In including prison-health privatization in the 2011-12 budget, lawmakers required that the change create at least 7 percent in cost savings compared to 2009-10 expenses. Wexford, which along with Corizon has formally intervened in the lawsuit, argued in a court document this month that the savings requirement justified the Legislature’s use of proviso language in making the changes.

“Clearly, then, the impetus behind the proviso language was the achievement of cost savings,” Wexford said in the document. “Saving tax dollars is properly connected with the subject of appropriations.”

The opponents, however, raise a series of objections about using proviso language to help make what likely would be permanent changes in the prison health system.

By The News Service of Florida

Pictured: The medical unit at Century Correctional Institution. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.


5 Responses to “Judge To Weigh Florida Prison Health Privatization”

  1. David Huie Green on May 27th, 2012 2:42 pm

    “This will cause disease to spread and make the prisons unsafe places”

    I just thought I’d repeat that sentence. I’ve always maintained prison wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the company you have to keep — people with a history of doing dangerous and unsafe things.

    David for better, healthier company

  2. David Huie Green on May 27th, 2012 2:37 pm

    Right or wrong, our lawmakers should CONSIDER following the law when making OTHER laws lest others ignore them as well.

    David considering legislative crooks
    or ignorami, not knowing which is worse

  3. retired po po on May 24th, 2012 5:36 pm

    I agree with you Jackie, the cost soar due to these companies cutting corners on health care and we the tax payers foot the bill. It is always a political move and pads the pockets of legislatures and others. Once you work in a correctional setting and see the short cuts taken, you realize the additional cost passed on to us. I hope one day the voters learn to let someone stay in office for two terms and then vote them out. We as voters are responsible for the problems in our state and nation.

  4. Rufus Lowgun on May 24th, 2012 4:53 pm

    Someone better look and see if Rick Scott (or his wife) has an interest in Corizon , inc. or Wexford Health Sources. I expect him to be relentless in his drive to recover the 75 milllion dollar investement he made in buying his way into the governors mansion.

  5. Jackie on May 24th, 2012 6:43 am

    If you look at other recent news you will see that privatization of a state prison in Mississippi resulted in the death of a guard,and injuries to many of the inmates. No law maker should ever put a price tag on public safety, which is exactly what Governor Scott, and Senators Haridopolous, Gaetz and Thrasher have done. This even being just the health care is dangerous. Many of the inmates are extremely sick when they get to prison. The for profit contractor will be cutting corners everywhere they can to increase their profit. The inmates will not receive the health care they need. This will cause desease to spread and make the prisons unsafe places. I am not a liberal person or one that thinks criminals should be coddled, the lack of health care will affect the employees that work there, who will unknowingly take the desease home to their family’s who will pass on to others they come in contact with. This is not to mention the inmates that are released and come in contact with our communities. The other problem with this is that there will be no accountability. The contractor will not have to answer to anyone because no one will look at their operation. The contracts will be given to campaign contributors and probably will not even be bid, or if bid will not be awarded to the lowest bidder. During Governor Bush’s term prison food service was contracted. This proved to be a fiasco and after several years food service was turned back over to the state. The contract was awarded to Aramark, a huge contributor to Governor Bush’s campaign. It was also awarded with out being bid.