ACLU, policy and religious groups ask Florida lawmakers not to privatize state prisons

By | 03.02.12 | 2:38 pm

Pic by Smithers7, via Wikimedia Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with dozens of policy and religious groups, are urging Republican governors– including Florida Gov. Rick Scott– not to sell state prisons to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company currently looking to buy state prison contracts as part of a new business venture.

Last month, news broke that CCA had approached almost every governor in the country with a new business opportunity that would basically trade cash in exchange for contracts to run state prisons.

From the Huffington Post:

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for “challenging corrections budgets.” In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The move reflects a significant shift in strategy for the private prison industry, which until now has expanded by building prisons of its own or managing state-controlled prisons. It also represents an unprecedented bid for more control of state prison systems.

News of the letters broke just hours before the Florida Senate struck down an effort by Senate leadership to rush through a bill that would privatize 27 prisons in Florida. Despite significant bipartisan opposition, leadership had pushed to get the bill passed. Proponents of the effort claimed prison privatization was a way to help balance the state budget and would inject significant revenue into the state as it faced yet another budget shortfall. Opponents claimed that the push was a result of significant contributions private prison companies have made to Republican state lawmakers in the past few years.

Despite the failed effort to privatize prisons through the Legislature, many have warned that Scott has the statutory authority, as governor, to privatize prisons. Scott has publicly supported prison privatization and tried to convince state Senators to pass the prison privatization bill this year.

Now, groups including the ACLU are calling upon governors like Scott not to take CCA up on their offer.

From their letter (.pdf):

While a prison sale might provide a short-term infusion of revenue, taxpayers in your state would be left paying for this short-term windfall until at least 2032. In short, this proposal to sell a valuable state asset is a backdoor invitation for your state to take on additional debt, while increasing CCA’s profits.

The groups warn governors that “selling off prisons to CCA would be a tragic mistake for your state” and that accepting the offer would be “an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse, and decreased public safety.”

Another letter, penned by a coalition of faith organizations, says that prison privatization would “be costly to the moral strength of [the] state. ”

From that letter (.pdf):

The requirement to ensure that the prison remains 90 percent full for at least two decades would pose a tremendous obstacle to more cost-effective criminal justice policies. The United States imprisons far more people than any other nation in the world. The millions of people who are directly impacted by this explosive rate of incarceration included families and communities of the incarcerated. Families and communities can be strengthened through evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and reentry policies that quicken the reintegration of those coming out of prison into their home communities.

The Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) and PHEWA’s Criminal Justice Network have also opposed (.pdf) prison privatization, on the grounds that it would be “immoral and wrong.”

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