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Political Contributions Push Privatization in Florida’s Prison System

by David Reutter

Privatization has been all the rage in Florida’s prison system for some time. By 2003, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), had contracts with private companies to operate its canteen, food service, and telephone operations. By then it also had several privately run prisons in its system.

PLN has chronicled incidents over the years to show that privatization is the fruit of political clout and often involve kickbacks that result in corruption. [See: PLN, Jan. 2006, p. 20; Mar. 2011, p. 1]. The problem is not confined to Florida, as the citizens of Mississippi learned after their corrections commissioner was recently indicted. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p. 42].

Gov. Rick Scott campaigned on cutting the FDOC’s budget, and one of his first acts in office was to pen contracts to privatize the entire prison system and its medical care. Due to a statutory provision, the move to privatize prisons was blocked by a court and failed in the next legislative session. The move to privatize prisoner medical care, however, moved forward.

Anyone who makes even a cursory investigation into prison privatization can easily conclude that it is tainted with corruption and poor-services from profit-mongering companies who cut services and staff to achieve profits on their contracts. With such a well–documented history, one is left to ask, what continues to drive prison privatization?

The answer is simple: money. Private companies use taxpayer-funded contracts to fill the coffers of politicians’ campaign purses. It’s big business at its best.

Private prison vendors--led by the GEO Group, which runs five Florida prisons--contributed $1.3 million to state politicians during the 2014 elections cycle. GEO gave another $75,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which backed Gov. Scott. GEO’S president, George Zoley, also gave $25,000 to the governor’s mansion commission, which is raising money to build a park around the mansion.

During the push between 2011 and 2013 to privatize the prisoner health care system, Corizon Health spent $415,000 lobbying the legislature. In the end, it reaped a $229 million contract.

Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, formerly the speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives, has received $40,000 in campaign contributions from GEO over the years. According to The Center for Media and Democracy, he also hired Donna Arduin, a former trustee for GEO’s Correctional Properties Trust, as an economic consultant.

Arduin was also hired by Gov. Scott as a budget adviser. She worked with Rubio’s budget chief, Ray Sansom, to pen a $110 million deal for a new GEO run prison in the state.

The political kickbacks leave informed taxpayers wondering if the push to privatize prison services is to save them money or to obtain political campaign contributions.

Sources:,, Miami Herald