Fear and loathing of prison privatization in Florida

The Buzz writes:

With desperation in their voices, dozens of prison employees urged lawmakers Monday to slow down or drop plans to privatize all prisons in South Florida. As expected, the Senate Rules Committee passed two bills, moving them to the next forum, the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday.

By a 10-4 vote, senators passed the privatization venture (SB 2038), an earlier version of which is blocked by a court decision. Republican Sen. Dennis Jones of Seminole joined Democrats Larcenia Bullard, Gwen Margolis and Chris Smith in opposition. A second bill (SB 2036) that addresses the criticism of the court case passed 9-5, with Democrat Gary Siplin joining the opponents. That bill is more controversial because it allows privatization to proceed with more secrecy than now.

Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, defended both bills as necessary in an era of steep budget cutting. “I don’t have a particular bias for public or private, but I am charged, for one more year, with making every dollar count,” Alexander said.

In breaking with his own party on a key vote, Jones won loud applause from the packed house of correctional officers, some of whom had driven hundreds of miles to speak. “I am not willing to balance the state budget on the backs of law enforcement and public safety at this time,” Jones told senators.

The atmosphere in the room was tense. Correctional officers spoke of losing their jobs and homes, and accused lawmakers of endangering public safety to save money. But they knew they had little hope of success. “This board is stacked with the governor’s lackeys,” said Brett Pruett, a correctional officer at Santa Rosa Correctional in Milton.

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