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Constitutional Amendment Effort Launched to Bar Florida's Prison Privatization
to Bar Florida's Prison Privatization
by David M. Reutter
The Florida Police Benevolence As-sociation (PBA) has launched a petition drive to enact an amendment to Florida's constitution that would bar privatization of prisons, jails, and offender supervision. The PBA represents over 30,000 law enforcement, corrections, and probation officers.
The PBA launched the drive following Governor Jeb Bush's recent proposal for the state legislature to provide an emergency $65 million to build new prison beds. That proposal included a provision to set aside $75,000 to allow the Correctional Privatization Commission, Florida's private prison oversight group, to take bids to build an 1,800 bed prison in Northwest Florida.
"The PBA went ballistic" when it learned of the provision, said Senator Victor Crist, R-Temple Terrace, one of the bill's co-sponsors. While campaigning for re-election in July 2002, Bush pledged to the PBA that he would not seek more private prisons. That pledge may have been subject to fiscal lobbying. In 2002, private prison companies Wackenhut, Corrections Corporation of America, and Cornell Companies, Inc., donated $274,000 to Florida candidates and political parties.
Prison privatization has its critics in the Florida legislature. "The control of individuals who have had their rights removed by the state is a public function, not a private one," said Rep. Mitch Needleman, a Melborn Republican and former law enforcement officer. The PBA is trying to enlist the clergy's help in fighting private prisons, contending the rehabilitation of prisoner is a government function. "We're abdicating that responsibility by giving it to a for-profit corporation that profits off the mistakes of human beings," said PBA lobbyist Ken Kopczynski.
Wackenhut says the PBA opposes private prisons because their employees are not unionized. "It's purely self-interest on their part," said Wackenhut lobbyist Damon Smith. Wackenhut, who operates two Florida prisons, has its own self-interest in maintaining or increasing its revenues; 14 percent of which came from Florida taxpayers in 2002.
Forty-eight hours after the PBA got wind of Bush's privatization proposal, the idea was dead. "At the last minute, the governor wanted it out," Crist said. The PBA's constitutional amendment would prohibit a public body from entering "into any contract, agreement, or other agreement, with any person, other than a public body, to provide for the care, custody, or control of individuals detained and awaiting trial, incarcerated for a crime, or under supervision as a result of criminal activity." Existing contracts shall not be renewed. The allowable exceptions provide for a one-year contract where a public body can prove it could not timely hire additional employees or was required "to address an unanticipated increase in the number of individuals required to be in the care, custody, or control of the public body."
The petition drive is being spearheaded by the Public Safety and Security Initiative PAC, 300 East Brevard Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32301.
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