Thanks to the refusal of nine Republican state Senators, Florida will not be selling 26 state-run prisons to privately owned corporations.
A bill which proposed the largest prison privatization in U.S. history was struck down Wednesday morning by a vote of 21-19, despite the backing of the Republican Party and Gov. Rick Scott (R). Nine Republicans crossed over to vote with Democrats in blocking the bill, which proponents said would have saved over $16 million per year.
The crucial vote comes as lawmakers in Florida struggle to fill a budget gap of over $1 billion ahead of deciding whether to approve a spending bill valued at more than $40 billion.
Senate Republicans had called the bill absolutely crucial to their efforts, but Democrats joined with corrections officers, labor unions and prison reform advocates to successfully make their case against privatization into a moral one, with many expressing concerns about giving corporations the ability to take away people’s freedoms.
Had the bill been approved, up to 3,500 state corrections workers would have been laid off, and approximately one-fifth of the state’s prison population would become wards of companies like the GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America and Management and Training Corp.
One private prison operator in Florida — the GEO Group, which runs the Blackwater Correctional Facility north-east of Pensacola, along with several psychiatric hospitals — is currently facing an FBI investigation into how it managed to get the Blackwater contract in the first place. The company spent large sums in a relentless lobbying campaign pushing for privatization, and a number of high ranking Republicans are still under investigation for corruption.
The GEO Group’s largest competitor, Corrections Corporation, sent letters this week to lawmakers in 48 states offering to manage their prisons for $250 million per year — a tempting pitch for conservatives eyeing massive deficits and a ticking clock on their promises to cut spending.
However, reports indicate that private prisons do not actually save states money, with inmates costing taxpayers more on average than if they were housed in public prisons. Worse yet, for-profit prisons have been accused of human rights abuses, and they offer limited incentives like education and training programs, counseling or drug and alcohol rehabilitation, which help drive down crime recidivism rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
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