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Florida Lockups Lite: Closing Prisons and Boot Camps, Privatizing Inmate Healthcare

| March 17, 2011

The fad is over. (© JMorris)

The Department of Corrections announced plans this week to close three prisons, two boot camp programs and another facility as a way of saving $30 million that agency officials say can be done without releasing any inmates early. Meanwhile, a preliminary cut of the Senate budget for prisons and courts banks heavily on privatization to help slice more than $270 million from the spending plan for the coming fiscal year, particularly through privatization of inmate health care.

Prisons officials claim they can close the prisons and boot camps without many layoffs. A statement from the department said “the bulk” of the cost savings would be generated through employee attrition.

Corrections Secretary Edwin Buss said last week that with about 350 jobs a month turning over in the system, not filling them could give the agency almost all the cuts it needs.

The agency announced plans to close Brevard Correctional Institution near Cocoa, Hendry Correctional Institution in Immokalee and Hillsborough Correctional Institution in Riverview. Also on the block for closure will be the Tallahassee Road Prison, the Lowell Correctional Institution Boot Camp and the Sumter Boot Camp.

Staff at the facilities slated for closure will be offered jobs at other institutions, prisons officials said.

“This plan is the right thing to do because it will save Florida taxpayers millions of dollars,” Buss said in a release. “The facilities to be closed are older and require more resources to operate than newer institutions. Additionally, this initiative will provide the department with an opportunity to consolidate program resources which will allow for seamless delivery of evidence based programs aimed to reduce recidivism.”

The state prison system currently has a surplus of beds, according to prison officials.

An agency statement said the phase out of the facilities would begin immediately with an eye toward completion at the end of June.

While the administration of Gov. Rick Scott has clashed with legislators over the authority to make certain moves without legislative approval, the chairman of the Senate committee that writes the criminal justice budget said Tuesday that Buss is within his authority to close and consolidate prisons without legislative approval.

Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, however, is working on a draft criminal justice budget that contemplates far fewer reductions, cutting 85 positions for a savings of just $5.5 million.

Closure of the facility in Brevard County, which has about 350 employees, may be particularly difficult – the area has been hit hard by the slowdown in the space industry and the end of the space shuttle program. Florida Today newspaper in Melbourne reported that prison officials said only 238 of those workers at the Brevard facility would be offered jobs elsewhere, though many of those jobs may be made empty by attrition.

The department said shuttering the facilities would save $30.8 million this year, and $25 million in out years.

From the Senate’s perspective, handing a private company control of all inmate health care — including medical, dental, pharmacy and mental-health plans — would save almost $75 million, according to a draft of the budget released by Fasano.

The measure would also cut 5 percent from salaries for wardens and assistant wardens and slice hundreds of positions — many of them vacant. More recent estimates already whacked more than $41 million from how much the state was expected to spend on criminal justice.

The plan also plugs a $90.4 million shortfall for the state courts and the clerks of court.

But the biggest proposed cost reduction came from the privatization proposal, which supporters say will save money and still provide inmates with adequate care.

“We have already privatized one of the regions in mental health-care services, and it’s working fine,” Fasano said. “And I believe we can expand that to other regions.”

But some Democrats — rarely fans of privatization to begin with — still worry that rolling out an across-the-board privatization push on a statewide basis could endanger inmates’ health.

“This is a massive undertaking of a lot of people at one time,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

“I just think we need to tread lightly and do it in an organized manner, as opposed to, in one fell swoop, privatizing the entire medical services. Because all you need is for one death to occur or one serious injury.”

But Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, asked whether pushing more employees into the $70 million building might be throwing good money after bad.

“I know the First DCA has issues, and we’ve discussed those ad nauseam,” Thrasher said. “Are we complicating or stacking on top of a problem that has already been created with something that’s not necessary?”

Fasano said the change would ultimately save an estimated $300,000 a year by getting rid of the leasing costs for the current headquarters for the Office of the State Courts Administrator and moving them into the extravagant and roomy courthouse.

“We have a little over 100 people that are using that facility in a building that could house a lot more people and save the taxpayer money in years to come,” he said.

The Legislature is looking to cut $3.6 billion from the current year budget to close a gap between revenue and spending. Lawmakers will get an update Friday on how much revenue is expected to be available, which will be the basis for the budget they’ll write this month and next.

–David Royce and Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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5 Responses for “Florida Lockups Lite: Closing Prisons and Boot Camps, Privatizing Inmate Healthcare”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    As much as I do not like to admit it, but there is a direct correlation betwen poor and bad education and the need for correctional facilities. Something seems wrong, even stupid, to be cutting educational services to young people and closing correctional programs which are used by poorly educated people. If there is a way, those funds should be reprogrammed into education budgets at the state level.

  2. Liana G says:

    Dr Guines there is a definite correlation to be found. What is even more disturbing is the ethnic break down.

    I recently met a former professor from Bethune-Cookman; who just recently accepted a position with FLDOE to explore ways to bridge the systemic wide achievement gap between African Americans and their white counterparts, that countless research has found – even among those of the middle class.

    That is why I am so looking forward to meeting with you. I am really interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences.

    I don’t understand how these ‘private for profit’ prisons are going to reduce gov’t spending. This is an oxymoron solution.

    Here is an excerpt from a recent Pew Report – “Washington, DC – 02/28/2008 – For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. . . A close examination of the most recent U.S. Department of Justice data (2006) found that while one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, the figure is one in nine for black males in that age group. Men are still roughly 13 times more likely to be incarcerated, but the female population is expanding at a far brisker pace. For black women in their mid- to late-30s, the incarceration rate also has hit the one-in-100 mark. In addition, one in every 53 adults in their 20s is behind bars; the rate for those over 55 is one in 837.

  3. Inmate's Wife says:

    I love the part about “still” providing inmates adequate medical care after the budget cuts. Anyone who believes inmates are currently receiving anything even close to adequate medical care should become a “guest” of the DOC and try those services for themselves since they are obviously partaking of illegal substances that are making them hallucinate.

  4. John Boy says:

    Scott’s largest campaign contributor was the private prision system, a company from Miami that also provides guard and sky cap services at aitports. His Slolantic Clinic’s could provide health care, and provide illegal drugs to inmates at the same time.

  5. a new world order says:

    i know personally the jail medical system is outrageous. $5 for an aspirin…lol…and that was like 5 years some of the other stupid big pharm drugs they try to get you to willingly take.

    psycopsath breeding ground is what jails and prisons are. this whole world has been corrupted by these sick banking and government criminals that control this entire world.

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