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Florida’s Prison Industry Criticized for Failing in Mission

Florida’s prison industry program is “making a few people very wealthy while operating ... in a manner entirely inconsistent with its mission,” according to advisors to Governor Rick Scott, in a transition report released in December 2010.

The mission of Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) is to operate as a non-profit corporation that trains prisoners in job skills they can use upon their release. PLN has previously reported on the cozy relationships between PRIDE board members and the for-profit companies the agency cooperates with. [See: PLN, March 2010, p.1; May 2007, p.11; Jan. 2005, p.12].

PRIDE pays its president $207,724 annually and its general counsel receives $238,276. The agency also retains several high-priced lobbyists. Meanwhile, prisoners earn from 20 to 55 cents an hour.

Still, the positions are highly coveted. Aside from PRIDE jobs, the only other option for Florida state prisoners to earn a wage is as one of the few canteen operators. Only 1.6 percent of Florida prisoners have received PRIDE job training.

A new focus on education and transition is targeting prisoners with 10 years or less to serve. For now, prisoners with longer sentences are being grandfathered in, but their numbers are expected to dwindle through attrition. About 28 percent of PRIDE’s prisoner workers have at least ten years to serve, including 16 percent serving life sentences.

Those with longer terms typically have the most seniority and experience; as a result, they are usually employed in the more technical positions. Critics of PRIDE say this is part of the problem. Having experienced prisoner workers in the most critical job positions may contribute to PRIDE’s profitability, but that practice fails to meet the agency’s mission of providing usable job skills to prisoners who are closest to being released.

“I call it ‘seductively incompetent’ because there isn’t anybody watching the bottom line, typically,” said Ed Connor of Volusia Tax Reform. “Well, it says that there’s nobody watching the store is what it says.”

Actually, PRIDE is being watched but the legislature has repeatedly failed to act. There have been at least four previous state reports criticizing PRIDE’s operation and business structure. The recommended overhauls have done nothing but sit in filing cabinets while those overseeing Florida’s prison industry continue to enrich themselves.

“Unfortunately, PRIDE has been able to obstruct and quell all legislative efforts at reforming or replacing PRIDE,” the transition report noted.

Governor Scott’s advisors recommended that PRIDE not be allowed to hire prisoner workers who have life sentences or more than five years remaining to serve. Further, they suggested putting PRIDE’s contract out for competitive bidding. Not surprisingly PRIDE objected to some of the findings in the transition report.

Governor Scott’s transition team also slammed the Florida Department of Corrections, calling it “broken” and “lacking leadership, vision and courage,” and criticized the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents state prison guards.

Sources: “Department and Policy Review Florida Dept. of Corrections,” Governor-Elect Rick Scott, Law and Order Transition Team; WFTV;

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